Willie Nelson Honored
In Star-Studded Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert
PBS to Broadcast All-Star Concert on Jan. 15
Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Washington, D.C., with a series of events, culminating in a star-studded concert tonight.
The two-day celebration began with a presentation and special display on Tuesday in the Library’s historic Thomas Jefferson Building with a group of the nation’s lawmakers, who recognized Nelson for his contributions to popular music. ”Everywhere you look in this magnificent building there are symbols of knowledge, creativity and invention so it is fitting at this time to honor one of the world’s most creative and inventive people, this year’s award recipient, Willie Nelson,” said Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao.
“It is truly a privilege to have Willie Nelson with us in our nation’s capital and to be able to recognize him for the immense contributions he’s made to the culture of America through music,” said U.S. House of Representatives Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress Gregg Harper.
“It is a great honor to be receiving the Gershwin award,” said Nelson to the group of well-wishers. “I have been a fan of Ira and George Gershwins’ music since I was a little guy and in appreciation for the award-and also I wanted to make some great music-I’ve just recorded a complete Gershwin album. It’s called Summertime.”
In honor of the legendary songwriting team, the Gershwin Prize recognizes a living musical artist’s lifetime achievement in promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding, entertaining and informing audiences, and inspiring new generations. Previous recipients are Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, Carole King and Billy Joel.
President Jimmy Carter said in a letter that Nelson’s music has “enriched the lives of people far and wide for decades” and that he is truly worthy of this “prestigious and well-deserved award.”
Steeped in the roots of country music, Nelson’s songs have a universal appeal and embrace the rich musical language of the American experience. A diverse group of the
world’s pre-eminent performers is paying homage to Nelson’s musical genius- showcasing some his most memorable songs-tonight at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
The concert will feature performances by Edie Brickell, Leon Bridges, Rosanne Cash, Ana Gabriel, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Cyndi Lauper, Raul Malo of The Mavericks, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Paul Simon, Neil Young and Buckwheat Zydeco. Nelson will also perform some of his favorite tunes. The master of ceremonies for the evening festivities will be actor Don Johnson.
“I could not have wished for a more complete source of inspiration in life, and in music, than my father,” said the country music icon’s son Lukas Nelson, also a singer, songwriter and guitarist. “I count myself as one of the luckiest people alive to have been born to such a noble, loving, and gifted human being.”
During the evening’s event, Nelson will be presented with the prize by the Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao, U. S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, U.S. House of Representatives Chairman of the Committee on House Administration Candice S. Miller and U.S. House of Representatives Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress Gregg Harper.
The concert will air on PBS stations nationwide at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 15 (check local listings). The program also will be broadcast at a later date via the American Forces Network to U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world. “Willie Nelson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize” is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C., and Bounce, a division of AEG. The executive producers of the program are Dalton Delan, David Mao, Michael Strunsky and Mark Rothbaum.
Major funding for “Willie Nelson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers. Additional funding is provided by The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Fund and The Leonore S. Gershwin Trust for the benefit of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Air transportation is generously provided by United Airlines. Additional funding for the Gershwin Prize events is provided by the Library of Congress James Madison Council.
Nelson is considered one of the top country singers of all time. His six-decade career has produced more than 200 albums and has earned him numerous awards and accolades as a musician, author, actor and activist. As a songwriter and performer, this iconic Texan became the voice of the heartland with such hits as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” but he has continually pushed musical boundaries. He diversified his repertory and turned pop standards such as “Blue Skies” and “Mona Lisa” into country hits and such pop tunes as “Always on My Mind” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” into crossover favorites.
In June, Nelson 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 alone he has delivered nine other new releases, one of which received a Grammy nomination; released a New York Times best-seller; appeared on 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 Willie Nelson
Nelson was born to Ira and Myrle Nelson in 1933 in Abbott, Texas. As early as age 7, Nelson started writing songs and playing the guitar, performing at church revivals and in local dance halls. After high school, Nelson joined the Air Force. He spent two years at Baylor University, but dropped out to pursue a career in music.
In 1960, he moved to Nashville and Faron Young recorded Nelson’s song “Hello Walls,” which became a No. 1 hit on the country charts in 1961. Singer Patsy Cline recorded his song, “Crazy,” shortly afterward. It became a huge hit and a country-music standard. In the early ’70s, Nelson became a key figure in “outlaw country” and charted his own career path. His reputation and success grew. He scored more than 60 Top-40 country hits over five decades. He has appeared in more than 30 films and TV shows and co-authored several books, including the recently released autobiography, “It’s a Long Story: My Life.”
Nelson has won seven Grammy Awards and received the Grammy Living Legend Award in 1990. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001. His album “Red Headed Stranger” was inducted into the Library’s National Recording Registry in 2009.
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, its American Folklife Center and its 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.