High Life: Why Willie Nelson Celebrates His Birthday Twice (And Why That’s Still Not Enough)

by Jim Casey

Willie Nelson turned 89 years old on April 29, 2022. Or did he? It really depends who/what you believe. A piece of paper, in the form of Willie’s birth certificate, says the Red Headed Stranger was born on April 30, 1933. But scholars (well, Willie and his family), say Shotgun Willie sprang to life a day earlier on April 29, 1933.

How’d we get here? Sit back, crack a cold one (or indulge the Willie Way), and hit “play” on the Playlist below. Now this here story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early ’30s.

Willie Was Born?

One thing most of us can agree on is that Willie Nelson was born. I’m sure there are a few folks who maintain he descended from heaven in 1933 to begin recording and releasing the greatest sonic output in the history of country music. That last part, regarding output, is an unofficial fact that I don’t have time to prove at the moment. But for the sake of argument, let’s use round figures. Let’s say Willie has released 100 studio albums with 10 songs each. That’s 1,000 songs. You know anyone else who has released 1,000 songs? Ok, maybe Frank Zappa, but he’s not a country artist. Really, somebody should request a government grant and get this entire thing sorted out.

Anyway, since Willie released his debut album, And Then I Wrote, in 1962, he’s credited with well over 100 albums. Depending on the source, it’s something like 72 solo albums, 25 collaborative albums, 13 live albums, and 51 compilation albums. It’s ridiculous.

However, in addition to quantity, there’s plenty of quality. And all that quality output has landed Willie among the Top 20 Best-Selling Country Artists of All Time, according to the RIAA, with 31.5 million units sold in the U.S.

Willie also has the most recognizable voice in the history of country music. This is another unofficial fact I don’t have time to prove. But I’m pretty sure no one has ever said, “Who sings this?” during a Willie Nelson song. It’s more like, “I didn’t know Willie sang this?”

Celebrating Two Birthdays

Oh, yeah. Back to that double birthday story I was unfolding.

The reason for Willie’s tremendous musical output could be because he’s actually 178 years old. Well, not exactly, but the 89-year-old does celebrate two birthdays. Willie was born just minutes before midnight on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas. However, the county courthouse recorded Willie Nelson’s birthday as April 30, when his birth certificate was completed about five months later.

As a youth, Willie celebrated his birthday on April 29, until he joined the Air Force at age 18 and got a look at his birth certificate, which noted April 30. Then, he started celebrating it on April 30.

Well, years later in the late 1980s, his cousin Mildred (who was 13 when Willie was born—and was present during his birth) broke the news to him that he was indeed born minutes before midnight on April 29.

Now, Willie Nelson celebrates his birthday twice: April 29 and April 30 He deserves both. And that’s still not enough. How about we add April 31? I know, I know.

Fun Fact: Willie was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. While the CMHOF website lists Willie’s birthday as April 29, the bronze plaque in the CMHOF Rotunda notes April 30.