Country music was not spared from the grief that came early and often in 2016. Legendary artists seemed to pass at unheard of rates — men and women we'd relied on for hit songs and unforgettable live performances for decades died, often unexpectedly this year. In this video, Taste of Country remembers them.

Merle Haggard wasn't the only Country Music Hall of Famer to die in 2016. "Slippin' Away" singer Jean Shepard and "Young Love" hitmaker Sonny James also died this year. Perhaps the most expected was the passing of Joey Martin Feek, one half of country duo Joey + Rory. Feek died in March after a long and very public battle with cancer, but just because we knew it was coming doesn't mean it was any less painful.

Ralph Stanley is another cherished musician to die in 2016. Holly Dunn, Guy Clark and Leon Russell will be equally missed by their fans and the country music industry at large.

Of course, the men and women behind the scenes are every bit as important as those on stage. Songwriters like John D. Loudermilk, Mentor Williams and Richard Fagan gave us hit songs like “Be My Baby Tonight,” “Drift Away” and “Tobacco Road.” Curly Putman, the man behind “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” also died this year.

Bonnie Brown, Mark Gray from Exile and Craig Strickland from the group Backroad Anthem also died in 2016. We even saved a place for a dog. Jake, Dierks Bentley’s longtime companion and co-star in many a music video, passed in July.

See Country Stars Who've Suffered Unthinkable Tragedies

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