On Dec. 5, 2010, Merle Haggard was recognized during the 33rd annual Kennedy Center Honors. It was a career highlight — Haggard was honored alongside Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, composer and lyricist Jerry Herman and dancer, choreographer and director Bill T. Jones.

The ceremony took place in Washington, D.C., and looked back on Haggard's life and legacy with an introduction by Vince Gill, a video montage and performances by Miranda Lambert, Kris Kristofferson, Brad Paisley , Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson and Kid Rock.

Introducing Haggard, Gill called him "my old friend and lifelong favorite."

"Merle reveals everything that we need to know about him in the songs that he writes," he explained. "His writing is not glamorous, it’s just real. Hag tells it like it is. He is the Poet of the Common Man. Through words and music, he tells his life story, which is, in many ways, America’s story — a quest for the simple things: a decent job, self-respect, a place to call home. And the one common thread through all of it is truth ... his songs truly are the standards."

In a short video, Haggard explained that his life was the source of his songwriting. "The only thing I'm qualified to write about is myself," he said. "Anything else would be fiction."

Gill added, "All his life he sung about the dangers and the demons that could haunt a man."

Performances followed, with Lambert and Kristofferson teaming up for a moving cover of "Silver Wings" as Haggard smiled in approval. Next, Gill and Paisley sang the energetic "Workin’ Man Blues" with soaring guitar accompaniment before Nelson and Crow took the stage for the poignant "Today I Started Loving You Again." Johnson and Kid Rock then closed the set with Nelson on "Ramblin’ Fever" as the previous performers also joined in.

Haggard passed away on April 6, 2016 — on his birthday — at the age of 79.

Photos of Merle Haggard 

Merle Haggard Dead at 79