Singer, Musician. He received notoriety for being the older, more experienced mentor to country music superstar Hank Williams during the early days of Williams' musical career. He was an African American street musician making a living singing the Blues and playing a guitar. His family moved from the rural and poor Lowndes County, Alabama to New Orleans, Louisiana when he was about six years old. He was drawn to the music of the area and learned about music on the streets of that city. Besides the Blues, he learned jazz with no formal education. At the age of 41 years old in 1915, he returned to Alabama performing in segregated night clubs in the southern part of the state and soon developed a fan base. While playing in the town of Georgiana in 1932, he met a young impoverished white youngster named Hiram Williams. Williams was shining shoes and selling peanuts to the people who passed through the local railroad station. Although Williams had a guitar, he could not play it well. Payne taught him how to play the instrument and other pointers such as satisfying an audience. He advised Williams to “Keep the crowd's attention. When they start to slip, you're in real trouble.” A strong bond developed between this unlikely pair of performers. Payne earned his satirical nickname “Tee-Tot” for his habit of drinking a cocktail of sweet iced tea mixed with an alcoholic beverage. “Tee-Tot” was a shortening of the term “teetotaler,” which means a person who does not drink alcohol. This habit led to him being arrested at least once in Alabama and receiving at 90-day sentenced for “violation of prohibition laws.” With the Williams' family moving frequently, Tee Tot and Williams lost touch with each other. A failed attempt was made by Williams to locate Tee Tot in 1951 according to documentation. Never a successful performer, Payne died at the age of fifty-six in an indigent ward of a Montgomery, Alabama hospital; Williams never knew about his death. He was buried in an unmarked grave, but Hank Williams Jr. and the Grand Ole Opry placed a marker in the cemetery to honor the man who helped Hank Williams’ career. To tell the story between his father and Tee Tot, Hank Williams Jr. also recorded the “The Tee Tot Song.” African American actor, Rex Ingram, played the role of Tee Tot in Williams' 1964 bio-film, “Your Cheatin' Heart.” Hank Williams gave credit to Tee Tot by saying “All the musical training I ever had was from him;” this is a quote from Colin Escott's 1994 book, “Hank Williams: The Biography.”
Bio by: Linda Davis
The picture of Rex Ingram should be removed from this memorial. It is not Teetot Payne.