The Kennedy Center

Willie Nelson


Willie Nelson
(singer/songwriter, born April 30, 1933, Abbott, Texas)

Willie Nelson is one of contemporary music's rare genuine icons, the 65-year-old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor remains a restlessly creative soul. In a career that now spans five decades recording more than 200 albums, writing many of this country's most enduring songs, acting in more than 30 movies and television shows, crisscrossing the country on his concert tours, and masterminding innumerable benefit concerts, Willie Nelson has continually renewed his artistic vision, remaining always what Kris Kristofferson calls "a profound, original songwriter in a class with Stephen Foster who continues to enrich our lives with greatness." In this decade alone, Nelson has recorded a string of critically acclaimed albums like Across the Borderline, Moonlight Becomes You (a collection of standards), and Just One Love (a prime example of Texas-style country music), along with two albums as a member of the Highwaymen. Nelson also has been the subject of an alternative rock tribute album, three boxed sets, and a star-studded 60th birthday television special. And he continues to tour, spending more than 200 nights a year on the traveling bus that is his home away from home. His voice is instantly recognizable: a plaintive, sweet sound that magically pierces the heart. His geniius is more: he creates music that is a soul-searching exploration of love and spirituality, often very sad, drawn from the deep well of this country's many voices--country, gospel, pop, jazz, and blues--but uniquely original. "If America only had one voice," says Emmylou Harris, "it would be Willie's."

Willie Nelson was born in the farmlands of central Texas, got his first guitar at age six, and was weaned on the music of such fellow Texans Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb, as well as the big bands of the day, their Tin Pan Alley pop songs, and the hits of Frank Sinatra. Willie knew early on that he would not be a farmer, but an entertainer. While still in his teens, Nelson started playing dances and honky-tonks, and by the time he graduated from high school, Nelson had his own regular radio show.

After a brief stint in the Air Force, Nelson landed in Houston, where he made his first commercial recordings. With a few of his songs, performed by others, hitting the charts, Nelson moved to Nashville to make his fortune as a singer. After only two years he had well established himself as the town's most sought-after writer with three monster hits: "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Night Life," and the landmark Patsy Cline single, "Crazy."

In 1970 Nelson moved back to Texas, performed at honky-tonks and rock concerts, and recorded two of his classic albums Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. His 1975 album, Red Headed Stranger, a country concept album, yielded a hit, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and spearheaded a traditional country revival. The following year, a compilation album of previously issued Nelson material, Wanted.- The Outlaws, became the first million-selling country album, remains one of the best-selling country music album of all time, and sparked a musical revolution.

By 1978, Nelson changed course again with Stardust, a collection of pop standards that spent more than a decade on the country charts. Nelson also embarked on his acting career that came to include the films Thief, The Electric Horseman, Honeysuckle Rose, Barbarosa, Songwriter and, most recently, Wag the Dog. On television he has appeared as guest star on such shows as "Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Nash Bridges." His Fourth of July picnics, which began in 1973, have become the stuff of legend, while his Farm Aid shows have helped call attention to the plight of the American farmer. His popularity soared and his work became a national touchstone for American popular music. In 1980, he was invited to sing the National Anthem at the Democratic National Convention. Nelson also recorded duets with such diverse stars as Julio Iglesias, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Leon Russell, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, and Merle Haggard.

Willle Nelson helped reinvent country music. Throughout his career he has not only entertained, but has given us part of our heritage. His music helps us to know what we are as Americans and where we came from. "Willie Nelson's impact on American music is indelible," says Carlos Santana. "He stands at the crossroads of all the sounds and colors of his country. What he reflects is true soul and sincerity." What he is-- is Americana.

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