The Rio Grande Valley has produced many people who have achieved widespread influence and fame. Military commanders, Olympic champions, astronauts, business and political leaders have been born and raised here. The region has brought forth several famous singers and songwriters in both English and Spanish, from Freddy Fender to Roberto and Bobby Pulido. We even brought forth a new style of music, conjunto, through accordionist Narciso Martinez.
One of the most iconic Valley natives in the music realm is Kris Kristofferson, who brought unprecedented eloquence and harsh realities to folk and country music. He’s among the best-regarded music stars with multiple Grammy awards and enshrinement in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also boasts a Golden Globe as a actor — he’s appeared in 70 films — and an Academy Award nomination for best musical score.
Kristofferson, 84, officially announced his retirement last week. It seems a perfect opportunity for Valley entities to consider celebrating the achievements of a hometown boy who made good.
A tribute could be as simple as a plaque or pavement marker or, if the artist is amenable, the naming of an auditorium, endowment or even a Kris Kristofferson music festival and songwriting competition. Any of these personal tributes, or his inclusion in a Valley legends hall of fame, would create a tangible connection between the Valley and the music and film legend.
Kristofferson has spoken fondly of his early years in Brownsville. His father, a career military man, was stationed here as an officer in the Army Air Corps before World War II. Eventually he would rise to the rank of major general in the Air Force.
By Kris’ teen years the family was living in California. He graduated with high honors from Pomona College and Phi Beta Kappa, then went to England as a Rhodes Scholar. While still a teen he wrote essays that were published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine.
After leaving college Kristofferson entered the military, where he seemed to be on a fast track to becoming one our nation’s top military leaders. He completed Army Ranger training, but instead of joining the elite paramilitary unit he was sent to fly helicopters in Germany.
After his overseas deployment, Kristofferson was given an appointment to become an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He had begun writing songs in Germany, however, and left the military to begin his music career.
Over the next 50 years Kristofferson would build one of music’s most illustrious resumes.
As that impressive career ends, it seems appropriate for those people and places who have been part of it, and the place where it all started seems an appropriate place.
Historical markers pepper the entirety of the Rio Grande Valley. We have walks of fame with conjunto legends inscribed on pavers; Freddy Fender smiles upon drivers from atop a San Benito water tower. This area, which boasts and promotes its long and colorful history, might be able to find a way to celebrate Kris Kristofferson, whose roots trace back to the Valley we call home.