Haggard, Merle Ronald

Haggard, Merle Ronald, 1937–2016, popular and influential American country singer-songwriter, b. Oildale, Calif. The outlaw poet of country music, he grew up in poverty and turned to petty crime as a teenager, eventually serving time (1957–60). Rededicating himself after parole, he began singing and playing the guitar in venues around Bakersfield, Calif. His characteristic sound mingled blues, honky-tonk, jazz, and pop; his most frequent subjects were tales of his hardscrabble youth and the difficult life of the working class, though a controversial anti-hippie anthem, “Okie from Muskogee” (1969), was his most famous song. Other hits include “Sing Me a Sad Song” (1965, his first), “The Bottle Let Me Down” (1966), “Mama Tried” (1968), “The Fightin' Side of Me” (1970), and “If We Make It through December” (1973). Haggard had 38 singles reach number one on the country charts and 71 the top 10, as well as several crossover hits. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1994) and Songwriters Hall of Fame (2007), he received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1994 and Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.

See his autobiographies (1981, with P. Russell; 1999, with T. Carter), Sing Me Back Home (with P. Russell, 1981) and Merle Haggard's House of Memories (with T. Carter, 1999); biography by D. Cantwell (2013).

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