The University of Texas at Austin announced this week that the Red Headed Stranger himself is donating a major portion of his personal collection to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. 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, Briscoe Center executive director. "Willie is a major historical figure, even while he's still active and continuing to make music."
"Some of the most interesting items from the collection are the gifts he's received from fans," says Briscoe Center executive director Dr. Don Carleton.
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 such as Clinton, Ann Richards, Stephen Colbert and Peter Jackson.
Even Nelson's fans will be immortalized in the exhibit. "To me, some 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," Carleton says.
"It proves the wide range and diversity of people who loved him. 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 only to researchers, but also to the general public. "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 are that many of them — even they are just extremely fascinated by Willie as a person."