Librarian of Congress James Billington yesterday announced that Willie Nelson is the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
With a career that spans six decades, Nelson’s music pushes genre boundaries and his lyrics give voice to America’s heartland. He put his imprint forever on country music and introduced it to new audiences by expanding music’s avenues in the ’70s to create “outlaw country.” He has continually broadened his musical language, crossing into jazz, blues, folk, rock and Latin styles. A guitar virtuoso with a unique voice, Nelson is an artist whose work continues to inspire new musicians of diverse genres.
Nelson will receive the prize in Washington, D.C., in November and be feted with a series of events. The prize honors a living music artist’s lifetime achievement in promoting song to enhance cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations. Previous recipients are Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, Carole King and Billy Joel.
“Willie Nelson is a musical explorer, redrawing the boundaries of country music throughout his career,” Billington said. “A master communicator, the sincerity and universally appealing message of his lyrics place him in a category of his own while still remaining grounded in his country-music roots. His achievements as a songwriter and performer are legendary. Like America itself, he has absorbed and assimilated diverse stylistic influences into his stories and songs. He has helped make country music one of the most universally beloved forms of American artistic expression.”
“It is an honor to be the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize. I appreciate it greatly,” Nelson said.
With 200-plus recordings, this iconic Texan is the creative genius behind the historic albums “Shotgun Willie,” “Red Headed Stranger” and “Stardust.” He is also the songwriter of many country-music standards, including “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
Nelson has earned numerous awards as a musician and earned extensive credentials as an author, actor and activist. He continues to thrive as a relevant and progressive musical and cultural force. In June, he released a new collaboration with Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie,” that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album chart and in the Top 10 (No. 7) on the Billboard 200 Bestselling Albums chart.
In the last five years he has delivered nine other new releases, one of which received a Grammy nomination; released a New York Times best seller; graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine; headlined Farm Aid-an event he co-founded in 1985-and received his 5th-degree black belt in Gongkwon Yusul. In 2013, Nelson released “Let’s Face The Music and Dance,” an album of pop-country repertoire classics performed with patented ease by Nelson and Family-his long-time touring and recording ensemble-and “To All The Girls…,” which features 18 duets with music’s top female singers. In 2014, he released “Band of Brothers,” a 14-track studio album of new recordings that debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Album chart and at No. 5 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart.