Bakersfield music legend Merle Haggard dead at 79

Merle Haggard is seen in a KBAK/KBFX file photo. The country music legend died Wednesday, April 6, 2016, at the age of 79.

Country music Hall of Famer Merle Haggard has died.

The Bakersfield native died Wednesday - his 79th birthday.

Haggard's manager, Frank Mull, told The Associated Press that the music icon died in Palo Cedro, California, of pneumonia. Haggard recently canceled concerts as he fought the illness.

Tresa Redburn, a spokeswoman for Haggard, told Eyewitness News he passed at 9:20 a.m.

OBIT: Haggard rose from poverty and prison to international fame

Merle Haggard's son, Ben, wrote on Facebook, "A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn't wrong. A hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends."

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum called him a "legend" and said "Haggard remains, with the arguable exception of Hank Williams, the single most influential singer-songwriter in country music history."

Along with Buck Owens and others, Haggard laid the foundation of the Bakersfield Sound of country music.

MORE: Working man's poet, Merle Haggard lived his life in song

Haggard was raised in a converted railway boxcar in Oildale. He served three years in San Quentin for burglary. The AP reports it was during that stint he saw Johnny Cash play, and he returned to Bakersfield at age 22 in 1960 ready to write music.

The rest is music history.

Haggard's hits - 38 No. 1 songs on the Billboard country singles charts between 1966 and 1987 - include "Okie From Muskogee," ''Mama Tried" and "Workin' Man Blues."

In addition to induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Haggard was a member of the California Hall of Fame. He was a Grammy winner and Kennedy Center honoree.

Haggard received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from California State University, Bakersfield in 2013, telling the crowd, "On behalf of all the songwriters and entertainers that's come up through the Bakersfield Sound, I'd like to say we appreciate this, and it's nice to be noticed."

MORE: Reaction to Haggard's death

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off