Country Stars and Others Mourn the Loss Of Merle Haggard

Apr 6, 2016 9:12 PM by News Staff

(AP) - Willie Nelson is remembering Merle Haggard as a "brother" and a "friend." Toby Keith calls Haggard "the greatest singer-songwriter" of his lifetime. And Dolly Parton says, "His heart was as tender as his love ballads."

Fellow singers and songwriters are mourning the loss of Haggard, who died today in California on his 79th birthday. The White House calls Haggard a "legend." Spokesman Josh Earnest says Haggard told stories that people from all walks of American life could relate to. His manager says Haggard died after battling pneumonia for months.

He was a masterful guitarist, fiddler and songwriter as well as singer, and released dozens of albums and No. 1 hits during a career lasting more than 40 years. Along with fellow California country star Buck Owens, he was a founder of the twangy Bakersfield Sound. It was a direct contrast to the smooth, string-filled country records popular in Nashville in the 1960s. General audiences knew him best for "Okie From Muskogee," a patriotic anthem released in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War. His most beloved songs also included the prison ballad "Sing Me Back Home" and the romantic lament "Today I Started Loving You Again."

Haggard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, the same year he won a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in "That's the Way Love Goes."

As a child, Haggard was raised in a converted railway boxcar, the only dwelling his family could afford after leaving Oklahoma for California. He turned to petty crime and spent three years in San Quentin for burglarizing a cafe. During that stint, he saw Johnny Cash play. His criminal record was erased by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who pardoned him in 1972, and he was invited by President Richard Nixon to sing at the White House.


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