Merle Haggard politely accepted the first-ever CMT Artist of a Lifetime award in Nashville on Tuesday night (Dec. 2). Though he’s been incredibly prolific in his career, he kept his speech brief at the conclusion of the CMT Artists of the Year special.
“Anything I’d say would be short of the mark, so thank you very much and God bless you,” Haggard said from the podium. After a pause he commented that music will live forever.
Even though Haggard didn’t have much to say, plenty of other artists praised him effusively. Billy Bob Thornton revealed that Haggard will be atop the CMT All-Time Top 40, a countdown of the most influential musicians of all time, among all genres, voted on by country artists.
After a reel focusing on Haggard’s magnificent career, Thornton introduced a musical tribute by Eric Church, Ashley Monroe and producer T Bone Burnett, who submitted a rousing rendition of “Workin’ Man Blues,” a No. 1 single for Haggard in 1969.
At the end of the music, Thornton – who is an Oscar-winning screenwriter – decided to go off-script.
“I’d just like to add something to what they’ve got here,” Thornton told the audience, “which is that I wouldn’t only include Merle Haggard in the greatest songwriters of all time. But I would put him up there alongside people like Tennessee Williams and William Faulker, Erskine Caldwell and John Steinbeck because he is truly a storyteller. That’s something that has been lost over the years, and I’m glad to see that it is coming back a little bit. And Merle Haggard personifies the storyteller.”