Merle Haggard was honored with a special tribute from George Strait and Miranda Lambert at the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday. Lambert and Strait performed “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” and “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” in a tribute medley to Haggard, the recipient of the Crystal Milestone Award and one of the architects of the Bakersfield sound. This year marks Hag’s 50th year in country music.
Garth Brooks presented the honor to the trailblazing country icon. “It’s no news that Haggard has always been an outsider,” Brooks said in his glowing intro. He later led a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to the legend.
“Country music’s been great to me all my life,” Haggard said in brief remarks. “Thanks for making this an eventful night. Good evening.”
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The singer has quite the history with the ACM, being named top new male vocalist in 1965, and the organization’s first entertainer of the year in 1970. He topped the Billboard country singles chart 38 times during his career between 1966 and 1988.
R.A. Clark, the show’s executive producer and son of the late Dick Clark, recently told Billboard about his family’s connection with Hag — and it involves the silver screen.
“There’s this family history with Merle and my father going back to 1968,” he said. “In ‘Killers Three’ where my father gave him his first acting gig in a movie. My father played a villain and killed Merle Haggard who played a sheriff. That’s how long this goes back.”
In addition to the ACMs, this week saw the release of a new tribute album to Haggard on Broken Bow. “Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute To Merle Haggard” is a collection of Haggard songs by artists such as Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, and Dierks Bentley. Later this month, Haggard will headline MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.