Legal name: Merle R. Haggard, Merle Ronald Haggard
Merle Ronald Haggard (April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, fiddler, and instrumentalist. Along with Buck Owens, Haggard and his band the Strangers helped create the Bakersfield sound, which is characterized by the twang of Fender Telecaster and the unique mix with the traditional country steel guitar sound, new vocal harmony styles in which the words are minimal, and a rough edge not heard on the more polished Nashville sound recordings of the same era.
Haggard's childhood was troubled after the death of his father, and he was incarcerated several times in his youth. He managed to turn his life around and launch a successful country music career, gaining popularity with his songs about the working class that occasionally contained themes contrary to the prevailing anti-Vietnam War subject matter of much popular music of the time. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, he had 38 number one hits on the US country charts, several of which also made the Billboard all-genre singles chart. Haggard continued to release successful albums into the 2000s.
He received many honors and awards for his music, including a Kennedy Center Honor (2010), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2006), a BMI Icon Award (2006), and induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), Country Music Hall of Fame (1994) and Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame (1997). He died on April 6, 2016 — his 79th birthday — at his ranch in Northern California, having recently suffered from double pneumonia.
Merle's last recording, a song called "Kern River Blues", a song that describes Merle's departure from Bakersfield in the late 1970's and his displeasure with politicians. The song was recorded February 9, 2016 and features Merle's son Ben on guitar. The single will be released May 12, 2016 to mark the end of Merle's legendary career.