7 Apr 2016

Country music star Merle Haggard dies, aged 79

7:40 am on 7 April 2016

Country musician Merle Haggard, who emerged from prison to become the poetic voice of the working man with hits such as Mama Tried and If We Make It Through December, has died.

Haggard died of pneumonia at his home in Palo Cedro, California, on Wednesday, his 79th birthday, manager Frank Mull said.

The musician became one of the most influential figures in country music with a repertoire that included songs with traditional country themes such as drinking and heartache. He also broadened the genre by writing about poverty, loneliness and social issues.

The singer, who battled lung cancer in 2008, had recently cancelled April tour dates due to illness and said he hoped to be back on the road in May.

Rolling Stone magazine has described him as "the backbone of one of the greatest repertoires an all of American music, plain-spoken songs populated by the kinds of working people Haggard grew up with: farmers, hobos, convicts, widows, musicians and drunks".

His son Ben, who played in Haggard's band, said his father had predicted the day of his death. "A week ago, Dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn't wrong," Ben wrote on Facebook. "An hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends."