Thursday, April 1, 2010
Born in Lowndes County, Alabama, Rufus Payne grew up in New Orleans in midst of jazz musicians. Young Payne learned every instrument possible. At death of his parents, he came back to Greenville where he soon had a following of both races, playing jazz and blues for all segments of society. In nearby Georgiana, he met young Hank Williams, an eager student of the rhythm and beat of Tee-Tot’s music. In 1937, Williams moved to Montgomery and soon thereafter Tee-Tot came to the city where he lived until his death in 1939, a friend of Williams’ family and mentor to the singer-composer. Hank Williams stated that Payne was his only teacher. Tee-Tot died a pauper and lies in Lincoln Cemetery in an unmarked
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Hank Williams mentor buried in obscure grave
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In Oakwood Cemetery, signs direct the faithful and the curious to the much-visited burial site of country music legend Hank Williams Sr., a monument that includes depictions of his hat and boots.
A few miles away, the man who taught Hank to play the guitar lies in an obscure, uncertain grave.
A 9-foot-tall white marble stone at the entrance to Lincoln Cemetery announces that Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne is buried somewhere in the cemetery.
And among the crowded headstones, some of which are overturned, a historical marker signals the general area of Tee-Tot’s resting place.
But it’s off the tourist trail, a little-known site for the Williams fans who flock to Oakwood Cemetery.
Tee-Tot was a black street performer who taught the young Williams to play the guitar in the 1930s.
An unmarked grave in a run-down cemetery may have suited Tee-Tot just fine, though.
Leona Simmons, the hostess at the Hank Williams Museum in Georgiana, said Tee-Tot was a very private person.
“He didn’t like to have his picture taken,” Simmons told the Press-Register in a story Monday. “He was a performer, but he was also very private.”
Tee-Tot used to go to the Williams home, where he would sit outside with Williams to give him lessons, she said. They usually sat under the high front porch out of sight.
“Whites didn’t follow blacks around then,” Simmons said.
“It just wasn’t done. That’s why they ended up under the house. He was hiding out.”
Williams’ mother gave Tee-Tot food as payment, according to the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Though his nickname was derived from “teetotaler,” he was known to carry a flask of alcohol mixed with tea. He played mostly in Georgiana and nearby Greenville.
“They say that old guy was good,” Simmons said. “When he played parties, he had a three-man band. On the street it was just him. He told Hank to always keep the crowd’s attention. When they start to slip, you’re in trouble.”
In 1937, Tee-Tot moved to Montgomery at Williams’ suggestion. Two years later, he fell ill and died in a charity hospital at age 55.
Unaware of his mentor’s death, Williams searched for Tee-Tot when playing a concert in Greenville 10 years later, Simmons said.
“It was time to pay him back,” she said.
But Williams didn’t find him. State historians said that until the general area of the grave was located in 1999 — the exact burial site is still unknown — no one else could either.
The Press-Register said a University of Alabama student, Alice Harp, tracked down the site.
Money was donated several years ago to erect a marker.
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