Tuesday, December 7, 2010
– Merle Haggard was among five honorees Sunday receiving Kennedy Center Honors in Washington.
The singer received the honor along with Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones and composer Jerry Herman.
President Obama said in his remarks, "The arts have always had the power to challenge and the power to inspire - to help us celebrate in times of joy and find hope in times of trouble. And although the honorees on this stage each possess a staggering amount of talent, the truth is, they aren't being recognized tonight simply because of their careers as great lyricists or songwriters or dancers or entertainers. Instead, they're being honored for their unique ability to bring us closer together and to capture something larger about who we are - not just as Americans, but as human beings."
"That's what Merle Haggard has been doing for more than 40 years. Often called the "poet of the common man," Merle likes to say that he's living proof that things can go wrong in America, but also that things can go right."
"In a day and age when so many country singers claim to be rambling, gambling outlaws, Merle actually is one. He hopped his first freight train at the age of 10, and was locked up some 17 times as a boy -- pulling off almost as many escapes. "
Later, after becoming a bona fide country star, Merle met Johnny Cash and mentioned that he had seen Cash perform years earlier at San Quentin prison. "That's funny," Cash said, "because I don't remember you being in the show."
And Merle had to explain the Man in Black that he hadn't been in the show, he had been in the audience.
That performance had inspired Merle to start writing songs, and he's written thousands of them since-- about three or four hundred "keepers" in Merle's opinion. Thirty eight of those songs have been number one on the charts, including Okie from Muskogee, which he performed for Richard Nixon right here in this room back in 1973.
Through it all, Merle's power has always come from the truth he tells - about life and love and everything in between. As he says, "the best songs feel like they've always been there." So tonight we honor a man who feels like he's always been here - Merle Haggard."
Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley participated in the event.
Kristofferson teamed with Lambert for Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, as well as Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley, at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., on Sunday night (Dec. 5). Kristofferson partnered with Lambert for Silver Wings, while Nelson and Crow sang Today I Started Loving You Again. Gill and Paisley sang Workin' Man's Blues, and Johnson and Kid Rock turned in Ramblin' Fever.