Willie Nelson is the first country music star to receive the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Library of Congress announced Thursday, calling the red-headed stranger a “musical explorer.”
“Like America itself, [Nelson] has absorbed and assimilated diverse stylistic influences into his stories and songs,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a statement. “He has helped make country music one of the most universally beloved forms of American artistic expression.”
The prize was named after George and Ira Gershwin and since 2007, it has honored living musicians with a “lifetime achievement in promoting song to enhance cultural; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations,” the statement read.
Nelson is the prize’s seventh recipient, following previous honorees Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Carole King and others. Nelson will receive the award at a November ceremony to be held in Washington, D.C.
“It is an honor to be the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize,” Nelson’s quoted as saying in the statement. “I appreciate it greatly.”
With more than 200 recordings to his name, Willie Nelson has a storied discography that points to how tireless the 82-year-old Texas musician has been throughout his career, including songs such as “Crazy,” made famous by Patsy Cline in the 1960s, and “On the Road Again,” and classic albums like “Shotgun Willie,” “Red Headed Stranger” and “Stardust,” where Nelson established a raw honky-tonk sound dubbed “outlaw country.”
PBS NewsHour spoke with the country music legend last year on his tour bus. There, Nelson spoke about his songwriting chops in the humblest of terms.
“I know that some days you write and some days you don’t. And you learn to live with that,” Nelson said. “Roger Miller said one time that the well goes dry, and you have to wait until it fills up again.”
Showing no signs of slowing down six decades into his career, Nelson released another album with Merle Haggard a year later. “Django and Jimmie” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard country album chart in June.