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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Willie Nelson, Country Music Sensation

April 30, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
Willie Nelson, country singer-songwriter, long-haired hippie and philanthropist, has had a prolific music career. He began playing when he was 10 years old and released an album at the age of 75. In addition to writing and performing his own songs, Nelson has collaborated with country, rock, folk and jazz performers.

Willie Nelson’s Early Days

Willie Hugh Nelson was born in the small farm town of Abbott, Texas, on April 30, 1933. He lived with his grandparents and worked in their cotton fields until age 10, when he began his music career as a guitarist in German and Czech polka bands.

After serving in the Air Force and dropping out of college, Nelson held a variety of jobs. He taught Sunday school until he was chastised for playing music in honky-tonk clubs. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “[W]hen his parishioners demanded he choose between the church and music, he chose the latter.”

Nelson grew up in an environment greatly infused with music. It was the music he heard while working in his grandparents’ cotton fields that helped shape Nelson’s eclectic and mixed-genre oeuvre.

“I was raised and worked in the cotton fields around Abbott with a lot of African-Americans and a lot of Mexican-Americans, and we listened to their music all the time,” Nelson explained to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Nelson’s Notable Accomplishments

In addition to writing and performing his own songs, Nelson has collaborated with some of the most iconic performers of country, rock, folk and jazz music throughout his career. In the 1970s, he was writing his own music and touring with a band that included his sister. Their 1978 album, “Willie and Family Live,” was a huge success in the country music industry.

Nelson achieved much of his success covering songs of other country singers. In 1985, he united with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings to form the country music “supergroup” the Highwaymen. Their first single, “Highwayman,” from the album of the same name, shot to the top of the country charts. Over the years, the group recorded a few more albums together, but none of them were as successful as the first.

In spite of the success of his musical career, Nelson did not forget his farming roots. He currently serves as president of the board of Farm Aid, an organization that supports local farmers and spreads awareness of the importance of good food grown by individual farmers.

In 1985, Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise money to help farmers keep their land. Nelson has continued to perform in Farm Aid concerts and to work behind the scenes for the organization.

Nelson has also hosted the celebrated Fourth of July Picnic in Texas since 1973. Although the first concert was a bit of an organizational disaster, Picnic planning improved in subsequent years. Hordes of enthusiastic fans gathered to hear all-star line-ups and, according to the Handbook of Texas, “the Fourth of July and Texas music have been synonymous with Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic.”

The Rest of the Story

Nelson has refused to let time slow him down; in 2003, he celebrated his 70th birthday by continuing to tour and releasing a compilation album entitled “The Essential Willie Nelson Collection.”

Unfortunately, Nelson’s notorious devotion to marijuana has not waned with age, either. In September 2006, he was caught with large quantities of the illegal drug on his tour bus. The Smoking Gun displays pictures of the stash that “Music and marijuana fans alike will appreciate.”

In July 2008, Nelson and renowned jazz musician Wynton Marsalis released “Two Men With The Blues,” a live album recorded at a January 2007 concert at Lincoln Center. According to Wynton Marsalis' official Web site, "Their performance stirred the sounds of New Orleans, Nashville, Austin and New York City into a brilliantly programmed mix that was equal parts down-home and cosmopolitan, with plenty of swing and just a touch of melancholy."

Even in his late 70s, Nelson continues to tour regularly, embarking on a world tour in 2010. News and tour information can be found of Willie’s official Web site.

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