On This Day: Willie Nelson Awarded Honorary Doctorate in 2013

by Matthew Wilson

Willie Nelson is more than just one of the greatest country singers around. He’s also got a higher education and a degree to prove it. On this day in 2013, the Red Headed Stranger became a doctor. Or at least, Nelson became an honorary one.

In a ceremony on May 11, 2013, Boston’s Berklee College of Music presented Nelson with an honorary doctorate for music. Nelson had some pretty famous company for the event. Both Carole King and Annie Lennox also received honorary degrees as well.

Recipients of the honorary degree are based on a few criteria. But Nelson has been playing music for so long he has few things to learn and many to teach. According to a school press release, candidates are “recognized for their achievements and influence in music. And for their enduring contributions to American and international culture.”

That sounds like Nelson through and through. At the time, Nelson wondered if he could put his degree to good use. After all, he was a doctor now.

“[I] was going to ask them if I could write my own medication,” he told the Boston Globe. “Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.” 

Willie Nelson Performed at the Ceremony

The event wouldn’t have been complete without a musical guest from Willie Nelson’s past. Kris Kristofferson showed up on stage to give Nelson the doctorate. Nelson and Kristofferson, of course, played together in the country music supergroup the Highwaymen.

And the occasion wouldn’t be complete without a mini-concert for the graduates. The two performed a concert the night before the ceremony. They played a wide variety of hits including Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” and Nelson sang “Night Life.” Likewise, Nelson got to hear some fans sing a few of his own songs.

“Last night was especially tremendous,” he said. “I enjoyed hearing everyone play and sing so many great songs. The history of music is good, but the future is even better, thanks to you folks.”

Nelson joined his rank alongside some other impressive singers. The college is known for honoring the biggest and brightest talents in music. Within the country music genre, Alison Krauss, Loretta Lynn, and Bonnie Raitt have also received doctorates before. The moment was not lost on Nelson who called the event a “great honor.”

“And all I can tell ’em is don’t give up, keep doing it, and keep whatever you got in mind,” he said. “Yeah, whatever you see yourself being, go ahead and see yourself like that now. Fake it till you make it!”