Willie Nelson Wins Gershwin Prize, 1st Country Musician Honored With Library Of Congress Award

Willie Nelson has been named as the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. A statement from the Library of Congress was released on Thursday, making Nelson the first country musician honored with the award.

The prize will be presented in November during a ceremony in Washington. A series of events honoring the beloved 82-year-old country superstar will surround the presentation.

Nelson has recorded a phenomenal legacy of more than 200 songs over a six-decade-long career and counting. The singer/songwriter, along with long-time friend Merle Haggard, debuted at Number One on the Billboard Country Albums Chart in June 2015 with duet album Django and Jimmie, per Rolling Stone. The duo created the legendary Pancho and Lefty album in 1983.

The lead track from his 1982 Album of the Year, Always On My Mind, was one of a series of crossover hits that converted waves of new fans to country music. The softer, less prevalent “twang” associated with the outlaw country movement is often accredited to Nelson and his cohorts, the likes of Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Hank Williams, Jr.

“Willie Nelson is a musical explorer, redrawing the boundaries of country music throughout his career,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said. “A master communicator, the sincerity and universally appealing message of his lyrics place him in a category of his own while still remaining grounded in his country-music roots. His achievements as a songwriter and performer are legendary. Like America itself, he has absorbed and assimilated diverse stylistic influences into his stories and songs. He has helped make country music one of the most universally beloved forms of American artistic expression.”

The Gershwin prize, named posthumously after George and Ira Gershwin, according to PBS, is awarded annually to an American popular music artist or composer.

As detailed in the Library of Congress press release, the prize “honors a living music artist’s lifetime achievement in promoting song to enhance cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations.”

“It is an honor to be the next recipient of the Gershwin Prize. I appreciate it greatly,” stated Mr. Nelson.

Nelson’s hit song list is as long as he is talented. “On The Road Again” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” are two of his most popular all-time hits. Nelson has written a bevy of groundbreaking songs as well, including the mega-hit “Crazy” that catapulted Patsy Cline to stardom in 1961, per the Boot.

The Gershwin prize was most recently awarded to Billy Joel, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.

The short list of prior recipients of this prestigious honor are as follows: Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Carole King.

The founder of Farm Aid, Nelson has been lauded as a true American hero for his generosity and charity work, as well as his outspoken support of marijuana use.

Eighty-two years and counting, this living legend is the country genre equivalent to a long-haired, guitar-strumming Energizer Bunny. He has managed nine new releases in the past five years. His 2014 album Band of Brothers featured 14 brand new recordings and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Album chart and at No. 5 on Billboard’s Top 200.

The star even celebrated the day before his 81st birthday by receiving his 5th-degree black belt in the martial art Gongkwon Yusul.

The prestigious Gershwin Prize is one of a long series of awards the great Willie Nelson has earned for himself, and congratulations have been popping up all over social media since the Thursday announcement.

[Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images]