DOVER, DE - JUNE 28: Musician/songwriter Merle Haggard performs onstage during day 3 of the Big Barrel Country Music Festival
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Big Barrel

Merle Haggard, one of the most celebrated country music artists of all time, has passed away at the age of 79. The Associated Press confirms that Haggard died on Wednesday morning (Apr. 6), his 79th birthday, of pneumonia.

Haggard first broke on the scene with a cover of Wynn Stewart’s “Sing a Sad Song,” which became a country hit in 1963. “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” led to a record deal with Capitol in 1965, and Haggard spent the rest of the decade notching hit singles, including “Okie From Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Swinging Doors” and “Mama Tried.”

Haggard continued scoring country hits through the ‘70s and ‘80s, with 1979’s Serving 180 Proof becoming arguably his most celebrated full-length release. “If We Make It Through December,” “You Take Me For Granted,” “Going Where The Lonely Go” and “That’s the Way Love Goes” all followed, and Haggard continued recording through the next three decades. His last solo album came in 2011, with Working In Tennessee.

Haggard received two GRAMMYs and is survived by his wife Theresa Ann Lane and six children.