Country music legend Merle Haggard has died on his 79th birthday, according to the Associated Press.
The old man from the mountain‘s passing comes almost one-year to the day after he played a benefit show for the Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere program in Shawnee.
Haggard was born in California to parents who had migrated west from Oklahoma. He drew national acclaim for his singing and songwriting, including his hit Okie from Muskogee. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
Haggard appeared at the 2015 SHINE fundraiser and received the SHINE Legend award from Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan. From a story I wrote for the Gazette:
“Merle has a personal connection to this,” said (…) Maughan, who founded SHINE in 2010 to help both student and adult nonviolent offenders through education programs, volunteerism and community service. “In his youth, you know, he got in trouble. We’ve shown how programs like this can help guide people into a more positive direction with their life.”
Haggard’s personal struggles as a young man were chronicled in several of his hit songs, including Mama Tried and Sing Me Back Home.
After Haggard’s father died when he was 9, he turned rebellious, hopping a freight train to Fresno and getting picked up by the authorities when he was just 10, according to his official biography. He was in and out of reform schools and deemed “incorrigible,” and ended up in and out of jail as a young adult, culminating in a stretch in prison when he was 20 years old.
Haggard began to take music seriously while in prison at San Quentin, where he was on hand for the Johnny Cash performance that was captured for the iconic live album At San Quentin.
Haggard had dealt with a myriad of health problems over the past few years, according to numerous reports.
You’ll be forgiven for wallowing in misery and gin tonight, music lovers. Here is a Spotify tribute playlist to help remember the Hag.