Toby Keith Reflects on His Memories with Merle Haggard After He Receives Merle Haggard Spirit Award at ACM Honors

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage for BMI Nashville)

During the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Honors Toby Keith was presented with the Haggard Spirit Award. This special event was held at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on Wednesday, Aug. 25.

After he received the award the “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” singer shared his memories of the country music legend on social media.

“When you grow up in the business, your heroes, your mentors, you want them to be big as life and hope that it turns out great, and @MerleHaggard was that and more to me. We would cut each other’s songs, we sang together, had so much fun. Thank you for this award, @ACMaward,” Toby Keith shared on Twitter.

Along with this message, Keith also shared audio of him talking about Haggard.

“I am honored to receive the Merle Haggard award,” Toby Keith shared.

The “Beer for My Horses” singer also talked about the talents Merle Haggard displayed during his iconic country music career.

“Merle was a consummate artist,” Keith said. “He had all the tools. He had the sound, the name, the style. (Merle Haggard was) one of the greatest songwriters in American music. And one of the greatest country voices ever.”

Toby Keith Said He ‘Shared Many Hours’ with Merle Haggard

The relationship between Toby Keith and Merle Haggard began when Keith was just making his way in country music.

“He took me under his wing when I was young,” Keith said. “We shared many hours and a guitar on his bus. We talked on the phone a lot. He gave me years of advice. … He was exactly what I figured he would be. …”

Just before the end of his life, Toby Keith had the privilege of performing with Merle Haggard one final time.

“I was on the stage with him the last time before he passed away,” Keith also said. And I will cherish those memories for the rest of my life – getting to sing with him that night.”

Merle Haggard passed away in 2016 at the age of 79.

According to the Academy of Country Music website, the Haggard Spirit Award “is presented to a singer-songwriter who is continuing the legacy of Country legend and 20-time ACM Award Winner Merle Haggard by following his/her own path, crafting great songs and epitomizing Merle’s spirit through genuine performances and great storytelling.”

Toby Keith was chosen to receive this special award for his “impressive” career, according to the ACM. “… he continues to be one of the most successful self-directed creators in music history as an artist, songwriter, singer, musician and producer,” the ACM also described.

Other recipients of the Haggard Spirit Award also include Miranda Lambert in 2015, Eric Church in 2016, and Dierks Bentley in 2017.