Toby Keith gave a poignant tribute to the late country icon Merle Haggard during his performance at the Grand Ole Opry in May, blending together several of the legend’s hits for one memorable performance.

Keith began with “Mama Tried,” transitioning seamlessly into “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “Silver Wings,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee.”

It’s clear the admiration Keith has for Haggard, who passed away in early April on his 79th birthday due to a series of health struggles, primarily severe cases of pneumonia. Because of his ailments, Haggard had a tough time performing, though he continued as long as he could. Keith even stepped in at one of his last shows to save the day when Haggard could only get through a handful of songs. Actor and musician W. Earl Brown detailed the event in a Facebook post:

Merle was in bad shape. He needed to be in a hospital – not on a stage; but The Show Must Go On. Merle would not take charity from anyone, but he did turn to Toby and say, 'How many songs of mine do you know?'
'All of ’em' answered T.
'All of ’em?'
'Yep. And I won’t need a teleprompter.'
'Well, stay nearby.'

After four or five songs, Merle’s infected lungs were spent. He couldn’t draw enough air to sing any longer. 'We’ve, uh, we’ve got a special guest here tonight…' Toby came out and sang the rest of the show.

Keith called Haggard the “greatest singer and songwriter of my lifetime” in a tweet after the icon had passed, posting a photo of Haggard and himself walking through a doorway together.

Keith held his 13th annual golf tournament benefitting the OK Kids Korral in June, and hit the stage in New Jersey with Brantley Gilbert and Eric Paslay. The artist recently came in at No. 47 on the Forbes Celebrity 100, bringing in $47.5 million over the past year. His new single, “A Few More Cowboys,” dropped earlier in July, but its corresponding record has yet to be announced.

Country Stars Remember Merle Haggard