Willie Nelson will celebrate making music with his friends when BMI presents him with the icon award during the organization’s 55th annual Country Awards on Tuesday night.
Toby Keith, Josh Turner, Keith Urban, Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris were expected to pay musical tribute to the Red-Headed Stranger during the show. BMI, or Broadcast Music Inc., gives the honor to artists who have had a “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers.”
Nelson certainly fits the bill. Before he became a star in the ’70s, his songs were hits for Ray Price (“Night Life”), Patsy Cline (“Crazy”), Faron Young (“Hello Walls”), and Billy Walker (“Funny How Time Slips Away”).
With pal Waylon Jennings, he was part of country music’s outlaw movement that eschewed the conventions of Nashville’s Music Row. He incorporated rock, pop, jazz, folk and blues into his music, used unconventional phrasing as a singer and developed a distinct, Latin-flavored guitar style.
He’s widely credited with helping influence the new traditionalist and alternative country movements of the ’80s and ’90s.
At 74, Nelson remains a prolific performer and recording artist. Earlier this year, he released “Last of the Breed” with Merle Haggard and Price. He put out two albums in 2006: “You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker” and the Ryan Adams-produced “Songbird,” which had him covering songs by the Grateful Dead, Leonard Cohen and Fleetwood Mac.
Previous winners of BMI’s icon award include Haggard, Dolly Parton, Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, Charlie Daniels, Loretta Lynn, the Bee Gees, Isaac Hayes, Ray Davies, James Brown and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
BMI represents more than 300,000 songwriters, composers and publishers in all genres of music.