Willie Nelson

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Nelson, Willie

Nelson, Willie, 1933–, American country singer, guitarist, and songwriter, b. Abbott, Tex. Nelson began playing professionally at 10 and joined a western swing band as a teenager. In the 1960s he moved to Nashville, where he became a successful songwriter, composing such tunes as “Funny How Time Slips Away” and the Patsy Cline hit “Crazy.” Nelson returned to Texas in the 1970s and during that decade came into his own as a performer, creating the blues-rock-country hybrid known as “outlaw music” and becoming enormously popular. He achieved great success with the albums Shotgun Willie (1973) and Red Headed Stranger (1975) (containing the hit “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”) and also began performing widely in concert tours, singing for a country-crossover audience. Among his later albums are Wanted: The Outlaws (1976), Stardust (1978), City of New Orleans (1984), The Promised Land (1986), Across the Borderline (1993), Teatro (1998), and the comprehensive collection One Hell of a Ride (2008). Nelson had federal tax problems in the 1980s, but they were resolved by the 1990s, in part with revenues from The IRS Tapes (1991). He has performed in a number of films, including The Electric Horseman (1979), Honeysuckle Rose (1980), and Wag the Dog (1998), and is well known for sponsoring Farm Aid concerts.


See biography by J. N. Patoski (2008).

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Nelson, Willie (Hugh)

(1933–  ) country music singer, songwriter; born in Fort Worth, Texas. Before he was a teenager he sang gospel in a Baptist church and played guitar in polka bands, but he also absorbed both pop and jazz music. Writing songs in Nashville in the 1960s, he helped the country music revival, but he did not get much recognition for his own singing. He relocated to Austin, Texas, and also reconstructed his image, adopting his trademark beard, headband, earring, and blue jeans. At first he won over a largely youthful audience, especially with his annual "picnics," like mini-Woodstocks, but gradually he broadened his appeal to an adult public. A widely popular, eclectic performer, he recorded jazz standards, country-rock, and gospel in his distinctive singing style, with its bluesy, off-beat phrasing. In the late 1980s he was briefly in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for falling behind in his taxes, but he resolved that problem and resumed his role as something of a national country-music icon, in part because of his generous appearances at benefit concerts.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.