On Thursday, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin announced the Red Headed Stranger himself is donating a major portion of his personal collection to the center. Willie Nelson will be handing over correspondence, awards, records and historical manuscripts to be preserved at the university.
"It’s very exciting, because we’re in the business of documenting the history of music in Texas and the south," says Dr. Don Carleton, the executive director of the Briscoe Center. "Willie is a major historical figure, even while he’s still active and continuing to make music."
Once open, Carleton expects the exhibit to attract the same breadth of people who have followed Nelson throughout his storied career.
Among the collection of memorabilia are letters and photographs from some of Nelson’s contemporary music legends, including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. Nelson's donation also includes correspondence with non-musical luminaries including Bill Clinton, Ann Richards, Stephen Colbert and Peter Jackson.
Even Nelson's fans will be immortalized in the exhibit. "To me, one of the most interesting items from the collection are the gifts he’s received from fans, which definitely meant something to him since he held onto them. And it proves the wide range and diversity of people who loved him," says Carleton. "His appeal is just stunning.” Gifts include everything from Native American headdresses to dream catchers.
And the Briscoe Center is intent on making the entire collection accessible not just to researchers, but to the general public as well. "We have plans to open up an exhibit to the public later this year, sometime in mid-to-late fall," Carleton says.
Once open, Carleton expects the exhibit to attract the same breadth of people who have followed Nelson throughout his storied career. "I think for people who may not be into his music, which I can’t imagine there being that many of them, even they are just extremely fascinated by Willie as a person."