The Red-Headed Stranger Gives His Archives to UT


A firefighter’s helmet handed over as a token of thanks to a man who gave generously to relief efforts after the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. An appreciative letter from President Bill Clinton. And a pair of cowboy boots custom-made for the late Western star Gene Autry, bestowed on a friend by Autry’s widow.

Those are three of the hundreds of items in the Briscoe Center for American History‘s new Willie Nelson Collection—which the university announced today—and taken together, they tell a story of Nelson as not just a beloved troubadour, but also as a great Texan known for his generosity. “I think the collection shows Willie as a human and an activist who’s cared about a lot of causes,” says Don Carleton, the Briscoe Center’s executive director. “It’s full of memorabilia and other materials from ordinary people, people not in the music and entertainment business, who have had their lives touched by Willie in some way. He’s really had a widespread impact.”

The collection has been in the works since late last year, when Nelson called UT president Bill Powers to say he was ready to donate some of his memorabilia to the university. The Briscoe Center is a natural home for Nelson’s archives, as it already holds the largest Texas music collection in existence. Hundreds of Nelson’s letters, awards, gold- and platinum-plated records, photos, and even two carefully preserved Native American headdresses given by tribe members to the Red-Headed Stranger now sit alongside similar items from artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Townes Van Zandt.

The archivists at the Briscoe are still sifting through Nelson’s donation, which could make its way into a public exhibit as early as this fall. “It’s a very diverse collection,” Carleton says. “Willie is an icon.”

Photo by Bob Jagendorf.


Tags: , , , ,



Post a Comment