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Don Williams’ Music Lives Again in Special Nashville Shows

Experience the timeless hits of Don Williams performed with the Nashville Symphony and curated by Keith Urban.

Written by Bob Paxman
Don Williams’ Music Lives Again in Special Nashville Shows
Don Williams; Photo courtesy of 2911 Media

Don Williams earned the beloved nickname “The Gentle Giant” for his lanky frame and rich, smooth baritone that wrapped warmly around a song. Alison Krauss once described Williams’ voice as, “Somewhere between Santa and the Almighty,” a pinpoint definition if ever one existed. During his prolific career, which began in the early 1970s, Williams parlayed that voice to 17 No. 1 hits, including “Tulsa Time,” “I Believe in You” and “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend.” He won the 1978 CMA award for Male Vocalist of the Year and in 2010, received the ultimate honor with his induction into the Country Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Williams died in 2017 at age 78 following a brief illness. But his timeless music will live on in a unique concert series, Don Williams: Music & Memories of the Gentle Giant with the Nashville Symphony. The show will run for three nights, October 31-November 2, at Nashville’s famed Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Music & Memories combines archival performance footage of Williams singing his greatest hits with the wonderful instrumentation of the Nashville Symphony, as well as Williams’ touring band. Guest vocalists will also perform Williams’ hits each night, with Trace Adkins and Tracy Lawrence on October 31, Victoria Shaw on November 1 and Sara Evans, November 2. As an extra treat, several personal artifacts from Williams’ career will be on display inside the Schermerhorn. It’s a totally unique way for fans to experience the magic and legacy of Don Williams.

Music & Memories combines archival performance footage of Williams singing his greatest hits with the wonderful instrumentation of the Nashville Symphony, as well as Williams’ touring band. Guest vocalists will also perform Williams’ hits each night, with Trace Adkins and Tracy Lawrence on October 31, Victoria Shaw on November 1 and Sara Evans, November 2. As an extra treat, several personal artifacts from Williams’ career will be on display inside the Schermerhorn. It’s a totally unique way for fans to experience the magic and legacy of Don Williams.

The concert is the brainchild of Williams’ longtime manager Robert Pratt. “When Don passed away, we felt that once we got over his passing, we needed to keep his music alive,” Pratt tells Sounds Like Nashville. “For the past two years, we approached the Nashville Symphony, and last year they said yes. The show will be performance footage of Don, who will be on screen with his voice, with audio by the Symphony and Don’s band. It’s a really exciting proposition.”

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Country music singers Keith Urban (left) and Don Williams (right) attend the 49th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards at the Gaylord Opryland Resort on November 6, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage)
NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 06: Country music singers Keith Urban (left) and Don Williams (right) attend the 49th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards at the Gaylord Opryland Resort on November 6, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage)

Pratt is doubly pleased that Keith Urban, who idolized Williams, has curated the show, selecting the appropriate songs and narrating some of the video footage. In past interviews, Urban has often recalled listening to Williams’ records as a youngster growing up in Australia, where Williams was extremely popular. As Urban’s career blossomed, he came to know Williams as a friend and occasionally performed with his hero. “I jumped at the chance to play even a small role in this incredible concert experience,” Urban stated in a release about the show.

Williams made his mark as a true country singer, wielding a pure, simple style void of histrionics or vocal tricks. “The most important things to Don,” says Pratt, “were a good melody and good lyrics. There were not a lot of electronics in his music.” As such, Williams’ songs easily lend themselves to vibrant orchestral arrangements, certainly in the view of Enrico Lopez-Yañez, who will be conducting the performances for the Nashville Symphony.

“The beautiful color of Don’s voice pairs well with the lush sounds of the Symphony,” says the conductor. “I was really not that familiar with Don’s music, but I definitely knew some of the bigger hits like ‘Tulsa Time.’ It’s been great to see what an amazing catalog he had and the extent of his influence.”

Lopez-Yañez compares his efforts in the Williams show to scoring a movie or television film. “There are a lot of similarities because the musicians will be accompanying a film,” he says. “This is a first for me. I have never done anything where we have music synced up to footage of an artist performance. It’s very innovative. All of the arrangements are brand-new so you’ll be hearing his music in a completely new and exciting way.”

Williams was somewhat of a trailblazer in country music, as one of the first artists to cultivate an international following. His concerts in Europe, Australia and even Africa were guaranteed sell-outs and he enjoyed booming record sales in various countries. Booking the Music & Memories concerts overseas would seem a natural progression, and Pratt agrees, noting, “I would love to take this to Europe and Australia.”

For now, fans can enjoy the full experience at the three-night Nashville residency. As Pratt raves, “To bring this to life with the Nashville Symphony is an absolute joy.”