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LBJ Foundation Shares Its Highest Honor with Willie Nelson

Country crooners Eric Church, Sam Hunt, Elle King and Lyle Lovett joined in to celebrate the prestigious honor and the creation of the Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities 

Willie Nelson has no problem with speaking his mind. His artistry and steadfast moral compass have often entwined as he’s used his platform to blaze a trail both as a political activist and as one of the great musicians of our time.

Last month, LBJ Foundation hosted the Texan legend at their sold-out gala, adding to his lifetime of accolades by bestowing their most prestigious honor, the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award. 

Formed in 2010, the award is a representation of President Lyndon Johnson’s passion for public service, and is granted to those who have dedicated their time and money to bettering the lives of others. The honor also comes with a new opportunity to give back.

Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb, the daughters of President Johnson, presented the singer-songwriter with his award. Photo by Jay Godwin.

Created in his name, the Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities commemorates Nelson’s far-reaching impact and representation of family farms and sustainable agriculture. Hosted at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, the new initiative will benefit research and student fellowships working on eliminating food insecurity, natural disaster recovery, prioritizing renewable resources and more outreach for rural populations.

As a co-founder of Farm Aid, which Nelson launched in 1985 alongside Neil Young and John Mellencamp, protecting these often overlooked voices has always been essential. It was his own small town upbringing in Abbott, Texas that informed the trajectory of his career and humanitarian endeavors, and since its inception, the non-profit has raised a staggering $70 million for his cause.

Speaking at the gala to LBJ Foundation President and CEO, Mark K. Updegrove, on the misconceptions that contribute to the struggle of family farmers, Nelson points out that a lot of people simply don’t realize where their food comes from. “These are things that you need to think about and how you can help the local communities, and help the local farmer. Because he’s trying to make it,” he says.

The LBJ Presidential Library wrapped in blue for the award ceremony. Photo by Brian Birzer.

Set in the majestic LBJ Presidential Library, a talented list of musicians also lined up at the event to pay tribute to their friend and inspiration, including Eric Church, Sam Hunt, Elle King and Lyle Lovett.

At 90-years-old, Willie Nelson continues to reach even greater milestones in his career. Earlier this year he won a Grammy for Best Country Album for “A Beautiful Time,” and it was recently announced he’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 2023 class — yet another confirmation of his status as a bona fide national treasure. 

Watch the full conversation here and look through images from the epic gala evening below to enjoy a slice of Texas history in the making:

Ben Barnes welcomes Willie Nelson to the LBJ Liberty & Justice For All Award ceremony.
Award ceremony guests mingle in the Great Hall of the LBJ Presidential Library. Photo by Laura Skelding.
Guests offer a toast to Willie. Photo by Jay Godwin.
Country music singer-songwriter Eric Church pays tribute to Willie with a fantastic performance. Photo by Brian Birzer.
Lynda Robb (second from left) and Luci Baines Johnson present the legendary Texas singer with his wife Annie (left) the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award. Photo by Jay Godwin.
Musician Elle King plays for Willie. Photo by Jay Godwin.
Willie Nelson on his bus with his LBJ Liberty & Justice award. Photo by Elaine Schock.

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