Family, friends, bandmates and peers attended Merle Haggard’s private funeral on Saturday, April 9th, with many paying tribute to the late legend through song.
Held at Haggard’s own ranch in Shasta County, California, the outdoor funeral was pre-planned by the country star himself, who had requested that Marty Stuart serve as officiant. Also arranged by Haggard was the afternoon’s soundtrack. Beginning with a studio recording of Lefty Frizzell’s “I Love You a Thousand Ways,” the funeral went on to include a handful of performances by some of Haggard’s collaborators and confidantes, including Kris Kristofferson, Connie Smith and former Strangers bandmate Ronnie Reno.
Stuart pulled double duty as Smith’s duet partner during an emotional version of Haggard’s own “Silver Wings,” but it was Kristofferson who took the lion’s share of performances, singing his way through a trio of songs that included “Sing Me Back Home.” When a gust of wind scattered several papers containing the song’s lyrics, Kristofferson smiled and quipped, “Merle’d done that on purpose.” Closing out the funeral were Haggard’s three sons — Marty, Noel and Ben — who joined together for a family version of their father’s “Today I Started Loving You Again.”
Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday last Wednesday, leaving behind one of the most enduring legacies in country music.