Today, the world says goodbye to Merle Haggard, one of country music’s most beloved artists, who passed away on his 79th birthday. The “Okie from Muskogee” and “Workin’ Man Blues” singer lost a battle against pneumonia at his California home, according to CNN.
Haggard was scheduled to perform at Houston’s Arena Theatre on June 16, as part of his tour, but had already canceled numerous shows since early February due to health complications. The singer overcame lung cancer in 2008, and an earlier bout of pneumonia nearly killed him in 2012.
Beginning with his first national hit in 1964, the Wynn Stewart-penned "Sing a Sad Song," Haggard went on to achieve acclaim and accolades throughout his long career, recording almost four dozen No. 1 country hits—including “Everybody’s Had the Blues,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Mama Tried”—and receiving the honor of being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994 (Okie claimed its own Muskogee kid three years later when Haggard was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997).
Alongside peers such as Wynn Stewart and Buck Owens, Haggard and his band, The Strangers, were also known for helping create the famous Bakersfield sound—a backlash genre with its roots in rural California that fought against the slick, manufactured production of the popular country music coming out of Nashville in the 1950.
"You’ve got to remember songs are meant to be sung," Haggard told the LA Times in a 2004 interview. "You are not writing poetry. The best songs feel like they’ve always been here." Fittingly, Haggard will be remembered for his contributions to country music through his timeless songs and compelling lyrics.