Facial Hair Friday: Willie Nelson

Today is Facial Hair Friday, and we’re taking a look at Willie Nelson, American musician, actor,  author, and activist. Today’s post comes from Vincent Bartholomew from the National Archives History Office.

Willie Nelson is synonymous with country music and marijuana legalization advocacy. Once described as “Jesus on a bad hair day,” Nelson’s white beard and waist-length hair complete his iconic look. He is best known for his hit songs like Crazy, On the Road Again, Pancho and Lefty, and many others. 

Willie Nelson and President Jimmy Carter backstage at one of Willie Nelson’s concerts, sitting on the couch in the green room, 9/13/1980. (National Archives Identifier 847030)

Born on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, during the Great Depression, the world-famous country singer came from humble beginnings. Abandoned by both his parents, Willie and his sister were raised by their grandparents in Arkansas. Nelson’s grandparents taught music and passed down their legacy to their grandson. By age seven, Willie wrote his first song, and in high school he played at halls and taverns to make money. 

Nelson made his name in the music industry in with his albums Shotgun Willie (1973) and Phases and Stages (1973). Willie was an early developer of a unique country music style known as Outlaw Country. Outlaw Country is classified as a subgenre of country music that features a blend of rock and folk rhythms paired with the introspective lyrics of country music. In the 1980s, Nelson joined the country music supergroup, The Highwaymen, with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings, and pioneered the Outlaw Country subgenre.

Willie Nelson and his guests meet with President Jimmy Carter, 4/25/1978. (National Archives Identifier 179058)

Nelson is a country music legend, but he is also a strong advocate for marijuana legalization. He has spent his life campaigning for its legalization—he even claims he smoked marijuana on the roof of the White House. In September 1980, Nelson visited his friend President Jimmy Carter at the White House for a concert on the South Lawn. Carter often listened to Nelson’s music in his study to help him relax. Nelson’s performance included a spirited rendition of “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” accompanied by First Lady Rosalynn Carter. The most interesting portion of the evening may have come after the First Family was sound asleep. According to his autobiography, Nelson clambered up onto the roof of the White House for a midnight toke of what he called a “big fat Austin torpedo.”

Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris in the Oval Office with President Jimmy Carter, 9/2/1977. (National Archives Identifier 176033)

Willie Nelson is a true American culture icon. His unique style of country music and activism sets him apart. While he is now 86 years old, here’s to many more years of wonderful songs and good vibes. 

A big shout out to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library for providing the photos!

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