Brian Tipton via CMT
The American Country Countdown Awards took place tonight (May 1) in Los Angeles and featured performances from some of country music’s biggest stars including Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, and an opening performance from Martina McBride, Jennifer Nettles, and Cam.
But, is was the show’s finale that has everyone talking. Actor Matthew McConaughey introduced the night’s closing performance by giving a touching speech about the late Merle Haggard‘s legacy.
“As a singer, songwriter and bandleader, Merle forever changed the course of country music,” McConaughey said, then crediting Haggard with perfecting the “Bakersfield Sound,” that was marked by “strong Telecaster twang and a plain-spoken eloquence all its own.”
McConaughey also said that Haggard was “an outlaw before the outlaws, and a hero to all of country’s finest.”
Country great Toby Keith then took the stage and joined Merle Haggard’s band, the Strangers, to honor the legendary singer who passed away on April 6. The stunning medley included Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Silver Wings,” and “Okie From Muskogee.”
The tribute was made even more special by the fact that Merle’s son, Ben Haggard, played a beautiful guitar etched with his father’s autograph for the medley and Haggard’s widow, Theresa, was in the audience. Theresa was emotional at the beginning of the tribute and stood up and began dancing during part of the performance.
Toby Keith had a special relationship with Haggard, not just as an artist but as a friend. Keith performed with Merle at one of his last concerts and was a huge fan of the man and the music.
Watch the beautiful tribute to Merle Haggard below.