“Outlaw country” music legend Willie Nelson (b. Apr. 30, 1933) is the recipient of the 2015 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The gala performance honoring him, Willie Nelson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, airs tonight on PBS at 9 pm. Nelson’s early albums Shotgun Willie (1973), Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978) launched his long career which has included popular crossover hits such as “Always on My Mind” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” The prize is named for the brothers George and Ira Gershwin, a composer/pianist and lyricist, respectively. American Masters featured George Gershwin in its inaugural season with the broadcast of George Gershwin Remembered (1987).
Among the many musicians paying tribute to Nelson in the broadcast are Edie Brickell, Rosanne Cash, Leon Bridges, and fellow American Masters Paul Simon and Neil Young.
Of country music, Nelson has said, “A lot of country music is sad. I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth – that’s what a country song is.”
Willie Nelson was the subject of the American Masters film Willie Nelson: Still is Still Moving (2002). This year, as part of the series’ 30th anniversary season, American Masters will premiere The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End (w.t.) which tells the story behind the pioneering outlaw country music supergroup that featured Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. The documentary, told through vintage performances and new interviews about life on the road and in the studio, premieres Friday, May 27 at 9 p.m. on PBS.