Willie Nelson was the first country artist to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize in 2015, a prestigious honor he shares opposite such names as Paul McCartney and Carole King for his lifetime of achievements. And now he’s showing the synchronicity between his work and the legendary songwriting duo of George and Ira Gershwin with his upcoming album Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, out February 26th. Nelson just released a simple and strikingly beautiful video for the record’s title track.
Covered previously by everyone from the Zombies to Annie Lenox and Janis Joplin, Nelson’s version of “Summertime” transforms the jazz standard into an emotive, quietly foreboding country-folk song anchored by flutters of Nelson’s near-flamenco guitar and lyrical piano. The track was first released as an aria in the Gershwins’ 1934 Broadway Opera Porgy and Bess, which told the story of the poverty-stricken residents of fictitious Catfish Row, a black tenement in Charleston, South Carolina.
Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin will also include covers of 10 other classic songs from the duo, including a quirky rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” with Cyndi Lauper, “Embraceable You” with Sheryl Crow and “Love Is Here to Stay,” best identified with Frank Sinatra.
Though the Gershwin brothers were known for their contributions to both Broadway and popular music, their work was as rooted in storytelling as it was in unforgettable melody. As such, they’re a natural fit for Nelson, who has a similar affinity for painting both vivid landscapes with his timeless quiver and etching classic tracks like “On the Road Again” into the same shared Great American Songbook.
“I have been a fan of Ira and George Gershwin’s music since I was a little guy,” Nelson said at the Gershwin Prize ceremony this past November.