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With his imposing stature and soft-spoken nature, he was known as the “Gentle Giant” of country music.
Ayrika Whitney/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams died Friday after a short illness. He was 78 years old. 

With his imposing stature, smooth vocals and soft-spoken nature, Williams was the “Gentle Giant” of country music. He was a staple of country radio in the 1970s and ’80s: between 1974-1985, he took 16 songs to the top of the charts. 

Over the course of his four-decade career, Williams recorded hits like Good Ole Boys Like Me, I Believe in You, Lord, I Hope This Day Is GoodTulsa Time and It Must Be Love

Don Williams was born May 27, 1939 in Floydada, Texas. In the 1960s, he was a member of the folk group Pozo-Seco Singers before striking out on a solo career in the early 1970s.

His start in Nashville came as a songwriter for Cowboy Jack Clement’s Jack Music. “Don and I were both working at Jack Music before our careers took off,” said songwriter Bob McDill. “One night, when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was in town, Don said, ‘Let’s go backstage and play them some songs.'” 

When they did, the Dirt Band’s John McEuen told them about the advantages that came when a songwriter developed a strong working relationship with an artist.  “Neither of us knew it at the time,” said McDill, “but I was standing next to the fella I’d have the biggest relationship with.” Williams took eight McDill compositions to No. 1. 

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Williams’ first solo hit, The Shelter of Your Eyes, came out in 1972; his first No. 1 single, I Wouldn’t Want to Live if You Didn’t Love Me came two years later. 

In 1978, Williams won the Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year Award. That same year, his recording of Danny Flowers’ Tulsa Time took home the Academy of Country Music’s Single Record of the Year trophy.

He released his last Top 10 single, Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy, in 1991.

Throughout his career, he brought country music to international audiences. Don Williams: Into Africa, a concert special filmed in Zimbabwe, was recorded on a tour of Africa in the late 1990s. 

Williams launched a farewell tour in 2006 that included a stop at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena, but retirement didn’t stick….