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Country music legend Merle Haggard dies aged 79

Haggard had been battling pneumonia.

Image: Apexchange

COUNTRY GIANT MERLE Haggard, who rose from poverty and prison to international fame through his songs about outlaws, underdogs and an abiding sense of national pride in such hits as Okie From Muskogee and Sing Me Back Home, died at 79, on his birthday.

Haggard’s manager, Frank Mull, said the country icon died in Palo Cedro, California of pneumonia that he had been battling for months. He had kept up an ambitious touring schedule, but the pneumonia in both lungs had forced him to cancel several shows this year.

A masterful guitarist, fiddler and songwriter as well as singer, the Country Music Hall of Famer with the firm, direct baritone recorded for more than 40 years, releasing dozens of albums and number one hits.

The White House called Haggard a “legend” and said President Barack Obama was sending his thoughts and prayers to Haggard’s family. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Haggard told stories that people from all walks of American life could relate to.

“His passing is a loss for country music, but obviously is a loss for all the people who got to know him personally, too,” Earnest said.

Source: ALLEN0955/YouTube

Haggard — along with fellow California country star Buck Owens — was a founder of the twangy Bakersfield Sound, a direct contrast to the smooth, string-laden country records popular in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1960s.

His music was rough yet sensitive, reflecting on childhood, marriage and daily struggles, telling stories of shame and redemption, or just putting his foot down in The Fightin’ Side of Me and I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.

His most beloved songs included the prison ballad Sing Me Back Home, the tributes to his mother Mama Tried and Hungry Eyes, the romantic lament Today I Started Loving You Again and such blue collar chronicles as If We Make It Through December and Workin’ Man Blues.

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