Since 1978, 200 performing artists in the fields of music, theater, dance, television and film have been the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honor. In 1986, Ray Charles became the first honoree with connections to country music, while Roy Acuff was the first full-time country act to be honored in 1991, with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and George Jones following in the years after.
On December 4th, the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors celebrated a new crop of music-focused recipients: James Taylor, Mavis Staples and the Eagles, who were all saluted in song by guests like Garth Brooks, Darius Rucker, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow and more. Highlights from the 2016 gala air December 27th on CBS.
Six years ago today, however, on December 5th, 2010, Merle Haggard received his Kennedy Center Honor. Once again, Vince Gill was on hand to celebrate the “poet of the common man,” along with fellow guitarslinger Brad Paisley, with a performance of “Workin’ Man Blues.” While their black-tie attire was in stark contrast to the anthemic “nose-to-the-grindstone” message of the 1969 hit, the collaboration drew raves from the crowd.
Haggard’s fellow honorees, including Broadway composer Jerry Herman and choreographer Bill T. Jones, and the invitation-only crowd dotted with celebrities and dignitaries, can be seen throughout the clip enjoying the high-octane guitar work of Paisley and Gill, and as the tune ends, Haggard doffs his black cowboy hat in appreciation. Also taking part in the tribute to Haggard were Kris Kristofferson, singing “Silver Wings,” Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow duetting on “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and Jamey Johnson, who performed Hag’s “Ramblin’ Fever.”
“It’s the ultimate,” Haggard told Rolling Stone of the all-star tribute. “You’re hittin’ around the right spot, it’s great, and probably couldn’t be topped. And I enjoyed watching Vince Gill give Brad Paisley a lesson – he took a course on ‘Workin’ Man Blues.’ But Brad is so hot and so good.”