One of the most coveted posters in existence was made for a concert that never happened.
There were actually two shows scheduled for 3 and 8:15 p.m. on New Year's Day 1953, at the Canton Memorial Auditorium in Ohio. Among those scheduled to perform on that first day of the new year: Homer and Jethro, the hillbilly satirists from Tennessee; Hawkshaw Hawkins, a maker of occasional Top 10 country hits; and Autry Inman, one of the early rockabillies whose song "I Cried Again" was recorded by the man scheduled to headline that New Year's Day show.
Except Hank Williams never made that concert. He died of a heart attack in the backseat of a car somewhere between Bristol, Tenn., and Oak Hill, W. Va, en route to that Ohio show. As Bill Malone wrote in his essential Country Music, U.S.A., the final months of Williams' life "were clouded by heartbreak and tragedy," fueled by a childhood birth defect that made the mere act of walking painful. "Physical sufferings combined with mental anguish," as Malone put it, caught up with the singer-songwriter during those first ticks of 1953.
Hank Williams was 29 when he died. He was a wealthy man at the time. But as Malone wrote, his artistic worth transcended whatever money he'd managed to accrue as country music's most popular singer: "No one communicated as well as Hank Williams."
The concerts still took place as scheduled, despite Williams' death only hours earlier. His backing band, The Drifting Cowboys, and everyone else on the bill performed in Canton, offering in Williams' absence a heartsick tribute to the Hillbilly Shakespeare, whose songs they performed by way of farewell.
This poster for the concert has acquired its own mythic status, in large part because there are but three known copies in existence. And the one available in Heritage Auctions' May 1-2 Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction is the first ever to reach the auction block. It is also, by far, in the best condition of the three.
This poster was found inside a Canton, Ohio, barn decades later, and required some restoration and reinforcement; hence its incredible shape. There are creases, yes, some heavy in places, mostly in the poster's lower half, but they are visible only when the poster is tilted at an angle toward the light. The poster, made of cardboard, was once folded in half vertically; as a result one can see traces of a crease down the center. And some of the yellow background and black letters have been touched up.
As a result of this restoration, Ken Burns featured the poster in his documentary Hank Williams: The Hillbilly Shakespeare documentary.
"It's a museum-level masterpiece for the ages," says Pete Howard, Consignment Director in Heritage's Entertainment & Music Memorabilia category. "And that's no hype."
Indeed, its significance cannot be understated, in large part because so many bootleg versions would appear in the years following Williams' death, as fans scrambled for some keepsake. Its beauty, too, is unparalleled, from the portrait of Williams to its mention of "Jambalaya" (his most recent hit single at the time) and its reference to Williams as "Mr. Lovesick Blues" and the "Star of MGM Records and Films," though, as Malone noted, his five-year movie contract "had not resulted in a motion picture before he died."
Hence this poster's reputation as one of music's holy grails, as it's far scarcer than the Beatles posters for Shea Stadium that realized world-record prices only one year ago.
"This is the top of Mount Everest," Howard says. "I don't like hyperbole, but this poster practically doesn't exist. It is so thrilling to be able to offer it."