Willie Nelson becomes first country musician to score Gershwin Prize

SXSW Notebook

Willie Nelson performs during the SXSW Music Festival on March 15, 2014, in Austin, Texas.

(Jack Plunkett / Invision )

The Library of Congress has selected Willie Nelson as the 2015 recipient of its Gershwin Prize for Popular Music, making the Texas singer and songwriter the first country musician to receive the honor.

“Like America itself, he has absorbed and assimilated diverse stylistic influences into his stories and songs,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a statement with the announcement. “He has helped make country music one of the most universally beloved forms of American artistic expression.”

Nelson, 82, joins previous recipients Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Billy Joel in being awarded the musical prize named for pop songwriters George and Ira Gershwin.

The prize, instituted in 2007, is awarded to living musicians “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,” according to the library’s statement.


Nelson is among the most prolific songwriters and recording artists in history, having written and recorded hundreds of songs including “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.”

Nelson will receive the award in November in Washington, D.C., where he will be feted at a ceremony at which various musicians, still to be identified, will sing Nelson’s songs.

“It is an honor to be the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize,” Nelson said in the same statement. “ I appreciate it greatly.”  

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