Singer Don Williams dies on same day as fellow US country star

FILE - In this April 10, 2012 file photo, Don Williams performs during the All for the Hall concert in Nashville, Tenn. Williams, an award-winning country singer with love ballads like "I Believe in You," died Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, after a short illness. He was 78. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
FILE - In this April 10, 2012 file photo, Don Williams performs during the All for the Hall concert in Nashville, Tenn. Williams, an award-winning country singer with love ballads like "I Believe in You," died Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, after a short illness. He was 78. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

The legion of fans in Northern Ireland of legendary American country singer Don Williams are mourning the death of the genial, husky-voiced Texan, writes Billy Kennedy.

Williams, who died on Friday aged 78 after a short illness, became a huge global hit with his reflective ballads in the 1970s and 1980s and he made memorable visits to Belfast for shows.

He last appeared in Belfast for a Waterfront Hall gig in April 2012 on what was part of his final European tour and, although his mellow voice was perhaps not still up to its usual quality, he delighted a capacity audience at the Laganside venue for two hours.

Except when on-stage Don Williams shunned the limelight, and he even was absent when inducted into the American Hall of Fame in 2012.

His warm, resonant baritone voice was Don’s distinctive trademark and he charted 17 No 1 singles in the American country and pop charts, among them ‘I’m Just a Country Boy’, ‘Tulsa Time’, ‘I Believe in You’, ‘You’re My Best Friend’ and ‘Lord, I Hope This Day is Good’.

Twenty-two more of his singles went Top 5. ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’ was perhaps his most memorable hit, peaking at No 2 in 1980.

Don, with his battered white cowboy hat, was often referred to as “the Gentle Giant”, for his bearing, musical impact and his physical six foot-plus frame.

Born May 27, 1939, in Floydada, Texas, Don Williams flirted with both folk and pop music before turning to country.

He was lead vocalist of the Pozo-Seco Singers from 1964 to 1971, which had modest pop success.

A gifted songwriter as well as a vocalist, Williams wrote his first country charter, ‘The Shelter of Your Eyes’, which reached No 14 in 1973.

Don Williams also became a superstar in Africa, and in 2004, he released the DVD ‘Into Africa’ which chronicled his 1997 live shows and travels in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Ill-health in recent years curtailed Don’s tours and recording work.

Separately, fellow US country star Troy Gentry, 50, died the same day.

A statement from his band said the death happened due to a helicopter crash in New Jersey on Friday afternoon.

The BBC said that the helicopter’s pilot also died in the incident, but the reasons for the crash remain unclear.