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Nelson was a struggling Music Row pro when Faron Young cut his ode to an empty room, “Hello Walls,” in 1961. A string of undeniable classics followed — “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Crazy,” immortalized by Patsy Cline — and Nelson began his own recording career, to fair results.
But in the early Seventies he moved to Austin, Texas, and reinvented himself as a link between Nashville’s tradition and rock’s imperative of personal freedom, making concept albums like Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger, helping pioneer the stripped-down Outlaw Country movement and rising as the greatest interpreter of American song outside Frank Sinatra. No one except Dylan has embraced the endless highway with more artistic success — as explained by Nelson in “On the Road Again,” a Top 20 Grammy-winning hit in 1980 — and his studio career is just as endless, ranging from Texas swing to reggae to standards with strings.
“Willie sort of creeps up on you,” Keith Richards once said. “Those beautiful mixtures he has between blues and country and mariachi, that Tex-Mex bit, that tradition of a beautiful cross section of music. . .He’s unique.”
WASHINGTON | Willie Nelson will receive the national library’s pop music prize this year — the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song — as the Library of Congress cited Nelson’s six decades in music Thursday.
Nelson will receive the prize in November when he will be feted with a concert and other honors in Washington, the library said.
Nelson’s songwriting includes country-music standards like “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” as well as the albums “Shotgun Willie” and “Stardust.” And he’s still making new music. Earlier this month, Nelson’s new collaboration with Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard country album chart.
Librarian of Congress James Billington said the native Texan is a “musical explorer” who has redrawn the boundaries of country music, crossing into jazz, blues, folk, rock and Latin styles.
“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,” Billington said in announcing the honor. “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.”
Nelson has made more than 200 recordings. In the last five years alone, he has delivered 10 new releases and published a New York Times best-selling book.
The Gershwin Prize honors an artist’s lifetime achievement in music. Past recipients include Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney.
In a written statement, Nelson said it was an honor to be named the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize. “I appreciate it greatly,” he said.
Librarian of Congress James Billington today 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.
About the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song
The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song honors living musical artists whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with George and Ira Gershwin, by promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations.
In making the selection for the prize, the Librarian of Congress consulted leading members of the music and entertainment communities, as well as curators from the Library’s Music Division, American Folklife Center and Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
The Gershwin name is used in connection with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song courtesy of the families of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. GERSHWIN® is a registered trademark of Gershwin Enterprises.
Like a lot of great country music tales, this one begins with whiskey. Willie Nelson and Toby Keith were on Willie’s bus, passing the bottle back and forth — to be precise, a bottle of Willie’s own signature brand, Old Whiskey River. They were having fun, but Toby had a serious question for his hero.
“I’ve got a project I’d love to talk to you about,” he offered. “It’s singing the second verse on a song that I think fits you like a glove.”
“What’s the name of it?” asked Willie. “Whiskey for My Men; Beer for My Horses,” replied Toby.
“Hell, let’s go cut it!” Willie exclaimed with a laugh. “It’d be hard to have a bad song with a title that good.”
Many months later, Willie’s judgment turned out to be right on. “Beer for My Horses” shot to No. 1 and stayed there for six weeks.
“Johnny Cash said one time that all that’s wrong with any of us can be cured with a No. 1 song,” said Willie. “And I think he was about right. I’m almost cured of everything.”
The ride actually began many years ago, way back in mid-Sept. 1976. Toby, then 15, made his way backstage when Willie was appearing in concert at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., as part of an “Outlaws” tour with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.
At the time, Toby already idolized Willie, who was then riding high with the No. 1 Waylon duet “Good Hearted Woman” – a song Toby himself would sing with Willie months after Waylon’s death in 2002.
Toby still remembers meeting Willie that night, 27 years ago. “He was his usual polite self,” he smiles. “Willie is a real sweetheart. He takes care of everybody and wants everybody to have a piece of him.”
By the time they met again in the ‘90’s, Toby had followed in Willie’s footsteps to become a star himself. It happened that Toby’s guitarist, Joey Floyd, had played the part of Willie’s son in the 1980 movie Honeysuckle Rose, and still kept in touch. Joey made the introductions — and Toby and Willie’s friendship was off and running.
“I’d already heard his music before I met him,” recalls Willie. “I think he’s a great talent. He’s one of those guys coming along — well, I don’t know how young he is. Younger than me for damn sure.” (Toby is 42.)
“Probably the thing that ties us together most is the music,” says Toby. “But he’s got a great sense of humor, and so do I. We call each other all the time and tell our latest jokes, and we really have a good time when we’re hanging out.”
Perhaps the most notorious occasion the two spent “hanging out” was during this year’s ACM Awards. Tongues wagged after Toby was named entertainer of the Year at the evening’s end, but wasn’t around to accept it because he’d already left.
Where was he?
“I was up in my room, at the same hotel where the show was going on,” explains Willie. “I was watching it on TV. Next thing you know, there’s a knock on my door and there’s Toby. He said, “Hell, I ain’t gonna win.” I said, ‘OK, come in here and we’ll write a song or something.” So we got the whiskey bottle going around — again — and we were having some fun.”
“You can tell when it’s your night,” explains Toby, “And it didn’t feel like it was my night.”
So Toby figured that spending time with his friend and idol sounded better than waiting around to not win an award.
“That’s important to me, getting a chance to enjoy some of the stuff I grew up wanting to do,” he says. “But I did feel real bad when they said my name and “Entertainer of the Year.”
There’s always the upcoming CMAs, where “Beer for My Horses” is nominated for Single, Song, Vocal Event — and Music Video of the Year, for it’s imaginative clip featuring Willie and Toby as father and son police detectives chasing a killer.
The two are lining up tour dates together, including a New Year’s Eve show. Willie is currently making a new album with Toby’s producer, which will include at least one song Toby wrote. And both men say they’re reading and willing to duet again.
“I’ve had a lot of fun singing with Toby,” declares Willie. “He’s one of us.”
But one question remains: Do horses really like beer?
“Good God yeah” says Willie. “It’s got wheat, barley, corn — why wouldn’t a horse like it? It’s horse soup.”
On May 26, 2004, the music video for “Beer for my Horses”, the Toby Keith/Willie Nelson duet, received the Best Video award by the Academy of Country Music Awards at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay. For what, I believe, is the best five-minute movie ever.
On May 20, 2009, Willie Nelson is named the Texas State Musician for 2009 by the Texas Commission on the Arts has named Willie Nelson the 2009 Texas State Musician.
WHEREAS, The Texas Commission on the Arts has announced the 2009 and 2010 appointments for the positions of State Poet Laureate, State Musician, State Two-Dimensional Artist, and State Three-Dimensional Artist; and
WHEREAS, Honorees are chosen for the exceptional quality of their work and for their outstanding commitment to the arts in Texas; nominees must either be native Texans or have resided in the state for at least five years; in addition, they must have received critical recognition from state, regional, and national publications, and they must have attained the highest levels of excellence in their respective disciplines; and
WHEREAS, The 2009 Texas State Poet Laureate is Paul Ruffin, a Distinguished Professor of English at Sam Houston State University; the author of six acclaimed books of poetry as well as several volumes of fiction and nonfiction, Mr. Ruffin has published poems in hundreds of journals and anthologies; he is also the founder and editor of The Texas Review and the director of Texas Review Press; and
WHEREAS, Willie Nelson is the 2009 Texas State Musician; this legendary Texas performer was playing the guitar at the age of 6 and performing at 10; after establishing himself in Nashville as a hit songwriter, he returned to Texas and soon became world-famous as an interpreter of his own songs and as an icon of the outlaw country music movement; he has further distinguished himself as a film and television actor and entrepreneur, as well as an ever-popular touring concert artist who has been involved in numerous charity events such as FarmAid; and
WHEREAS, The 2009 Texas State Two-Dimensional Artist is Rene Alvarado; born in Mexico, he came to the United States with his family as a boy, and his work powerfully evokes the values and heritage of his native country, finding universal resonance in the rich particularity of Mexican culture; his work has been featured in galleries and exhibitions throughout Texas and the Southwest; and
WHEREAS, Eliseo Garcia has been selected as the 2009 Texas State Three-Dimensional Artist; his inspiring bas-relief sculptures pay homage to the importance of family, love, and spirituality while reflecting the ancient cultural traditions of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations; often carved out of Texas limestone, his works are on permanent display in arts centers, hospitals, libraries, and other public buildings across the state; and
WHEREAS, Fort Worth native and Denton resident Karla K. Morton has been named as the 2010 Texas State Poet Laureate; a songwriter and children’s book author as well as a celebrated poet, Ms. Morton performs her poetry across the state and has recorded her poems with musical accompaniment; she is a founder of the Denton Poet’s Assembly and a member of the board of directors of the Greater Denton Arts Council; and
WHEREAS, Sara Hickman of Austin will be the 2010 Texas State Musician; this talented singer-songwriter has recorded many critically acclaimed albums; the daughter of a painter and a weaver, the multitalented Ms. Hickman is also a painter; she supports many social causes through her work and regularly performs and records music for children; and
WHEREAS, Austin painter Marc Burckhardt has been named as the 2010 Texas State Two-Dimensional Artist; born in Germany and raised in Texas, Mr. Burckhardt combines European imagery with thematic material from contemporary American life; his mischievous wit is enhanced by his adoption of the glazing and varnishing techniques of the old masters, and his work has been featured in galleries and shows around the nation and across the world; and
WHEREAS, The 2010 Texas State Three-Dimensional Artist will be John Bennett, who began sculpting figures in 1976 and cast his first bronze in 1985; acclaimed for his sculptures of women, he has created works depicting women from all walks of life, from Old West legend Annie Oakley to 98-year-old Alice Reeves, a former schoolteacher and granddaughter of a slave; one of his pieces was selected by the Women’s Museum for display at the White House in 1999; and
WHEREAS, The men and women who have been selected to hold these prestigious posts for the next two years have all greatly contributed to the vibrant cultural life of the Lone Star State, and Texas is indeed fortunate to be home to these talented artists; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby honor the 2009 and 2010 appointees to the positions of State Poet Laureate, State Musician, State Two-Dimensional Artist, and State Three-Dimensional Artist and extend to each of them sincere best wishes for continued creativity and achievement.
The Texas state musicians are selected for one-year appointments by the Texas Poet Laureate, State Musician and State Artist Committee.