Willie Nelson has earned countless awards for his seven-decade music career, but the legend is also well known for his activism — particularly in the areas of farming and food security. In recognition of his longtime advocacy work, the LBJ Foundation will present its most prestigious honor, the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award to Nelson this spring.
The award will be presented at a special gala tribute dinner on Friday, May 12, 2023, which in turn will benefit the newly established Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, a part of The University of Texas at Austin.
According to a release, the endowment will fund research and student fellowships focused on sustainable agriculture, eliminating hunger, resilient energy, sustainable water, and natural disaster recovery to benefit rural and farm communities.
Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise funds for struggling farmers, which has since raised over $70 million for those who own and operate family farms throughout the United States. He has also helped raise millions around disaster relief, for families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and for veterans, as well as working toward environmental and animal advocacy, and voting rights. His Luck Family Foundation provides financial grant assistance and other resources to artists, organizations, and programs in need, donating proceeds from Luck Reunion events to Farm Aid and other longtime charity partners like the Texas Food & Wine Alliance.
“Willie Nelson is a national treasure who gained fame through his sheer musical talent and won hearts as someone who truly cares about the lives of his fellow Americans," says Larry Temple, Chairman of the LBJ Foundation Board of Trustees, via release. "A product of rural Texas, Willie has never forgotten where he comes from. His longtime efforts to raise money and awareness for family farmers through Farm Aid and numerous other endeavors to help those in need throughout his career make him a true inspiration.”
The dinner will honor Nelson's lifelong support for rural communities, embodying President Lyndon Baines Johnson's commitment to public service, particularly in the areas of farming and food security. With their similar backgrounds as rural Texans, both President Johnson and Nelson shared a keen awareness of the struggles of those who work in the agricultural industry.
“The bounty of the earth is the foundation of our economy," President Johnson shared in a 1965 Special Message to Congress on Agriculture. "Programs in every aspect of our nation’s life depend on the abundant harvests of our farms.”