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Briscoe Center Acquires Willie Nelson Collection

The iconic American musician donated major portions of his personal collection, including song manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, platinum records and Indian headdresses. An upcoming exhibit is in the works.

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Willie Nelson plays in the pilot episode of Austin City Limits.

Willie Nelson plays in the pilot episode of Austin City Limits. [Photo courtesy of KLRU-TV and Austin City Limits.] 

The red-headed stranger feels more like an old friend to many in Texas. And now Willie Nelson has shared even more of himself with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Nelson has donated major portions of his collection of correspondence, manuscripts, records and awards to the center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Along with other music collections at the center, the Willie Nelson Collection provides scholars with a deeper understanding of Nelson’s music, career, relationships and creative process. The collection will be the focus of an upcoming exhibit on the UT Austin campus.

Willie Nelson 4th of July picnic poster

A young Willie Nelson. 

“Willie Nelson is an iconic American and an iconic Texan, so it’s fitting that the Briscoe Center for American History should help safeguard his archives,” said university President Bill Powers. “Because of his generous gift, scholars for decades to come will have access to the inner workings of his creativity and will better understand his influence on American culture. It’s a great day for UT’s Briscoe Center.”

“The Nelson collection is an outstanding addition to the center’s music and material culture holdings,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “It depicts not only his music and movie career, but also the impact he has had on our broader cultural landscape and the depth of his contributions as an activist and philanthropist. We are deeply grateful to Willie for entrusting us with such a remarkable gift.”

The collection includes photographs, correspondence and song manuscripts; posters, illustrations and portraits; platinum records, certificates and awards; signed books; screenplays; and many personal items, including Indian headdresses, dream catchers and numerous gifts and tributes from Nelson’s fans.

The collection also includes letters and photographs from musicians including Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard, as well as others including Bill Clinton, Ann Richards, Stephen Colbert, Peter Jackson and Lionel Richie. The collection also pays tribute to Nelson’s fans, who have given him countless gifts and notes over the years, which will now be professionally preserved.

Young Willie Nelson

A young Willie Nelson. 

The Briscoe Center has long emphasized the development of its music resources as an integral part of its mission to document the historical experience of the American people. The center’s collections include 50,000 commercial and field recordings; the John A. Lomax Family Papers; and many collections related to Texas music, including the Armadillo World Headquarters Archives, the Burton Wilson Collection and the Soap Creek Saloon Archives. The Texas Music Collection contains more than 100 Nelson LPs, and the Texas Poster Collection includes advertisements for Nelson’s early concerts in Austin. The center’s photojournalism holdings also include images of Nelson performing live and visiting with celebrities.

A seven-time Grammy winner, Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. His career has spanned six decades and more than 200 albums. He has collaborated with some of the greatest musical acts of all time including Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard. Nelson has also amassed reputable credentials as an author, actor and activist.

Read the complete press release for more information about Nelson and the collection.

The Willie Nelson collection is currently being processed but will be accessible for research purposes in the future. The collection is also expected to grow as more items are donated.