By Eric Renner Brown
July 09, 2015 at 04:32 PM EDT
Gary Miller/Getty Images

Country hero Willie Nelson will join Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel as a recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, Librarian of Congress James Billington announced today. The distinction, which dates back to 2007 and honors George and Ira Gershwin, recognizes artists who have promoted song and inspired future generations of performers. Other previous recipients include Carole King, Burt Bacharach, and Paul Simon.

“Willie Nelson is a musical explorer, redrawing the boundaries of country music throughout his career,” Billington said in a press release. “A master communicator, the sincerity and universally appealing message of his lyrics place him in a category of his own while still remaining grounded in his country-music roots. His achievements as a songwriter and performer are legendary. Like America itself, he has absorbed and assimilated diverse stylistic influences into his stories and songs. He has helped make country music one of the most universally beloved forms of American artistic expression.”

The press release also lauded Nelson’s genre explorations and creation of the “outlaw country” style. In June, Nelson released his twenty-seventh collaborative album Django & Jimmie with Merle Haggard, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s best-selling albums chart.

A ceremony presenting Nelson with the award will take place in Washington, D.C. sometime this November.

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