Don Williams, Country Singer with 17 No. 1 Hits, Dies at 78 of Emphysema

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Don Williams, an award-winning country singer who had 17 No. 1 hit songs and whose mellow style influenced a later generation of singers, including Joe Nichols, Josh Turner and Keith Urban, died Sept. 8 in Mobile, Ala. He was 78.

His publicist, Kirt Webster, confirmed the death. The cause was emphysema.

Nicknamed “the Gentle Giant,” Mr. Williams had a rich voice and a soothing delivery. He won the Country Music Association’s awards for best male vocalist and best single for “Tulsa Time” in 1978.

He toured sparingly, did few media interviews and spent much of his time on his farm west of Nashville. He retired in 2016. He had decidedly mixed feelings about the trappings of stardom.

“It’s one of those blessings and curses kind of things,” Mr. Williams said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1994. “If you have the talent, it’s a blessing. But there’s times that . . . a lot of the prices that you have to pay to be a part of it is a curse.”

His hits included “I Believe in You,” “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry” and “Back in My Younger Days.” He recorded a popular duet with Emmylou Harris, “If I Needed You,” in 1981.

He also toured in Europe and Africa. Eric Clapton recorded his “We’re More Than Friends” and Pete Townshend redid his “Till the Rivers All Run Dry.”

“Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days,” Kyle Young, chief executive of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement. “Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”

Mr. Williams was born May 27, 1939, in Floydada, Tex. He spent the early part of his career in rock, country and folk groups and was a founding member of the Pozo Seco Singers.

He launched his solo career in 1971. His first No. 1 country hit was “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me” in 1974. From 1974 to 1991, 42 of his 46 singles landed in the Top 10.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, by Kristin M. Hall