Merle Haggard Receives His High School Diploma
Merle Haggard has finally received his high school diploma. The 78-year-old was given the honor on Saturday (April 25), before his concert at the Fox Theater in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif.
Haggard's road to graduating from Bakersfield High School is a long one. He was expelled from school in eighth grade, just a few weeks before summer vacation, when he was caught making fun of a chorus teacher who was running late for class, and the next year wasn't much better for the aspiring singer. Still angry over the way the previous year had ended, Haggard skipped many of his classes during the first week of ninth grade.
Haggard's older sister, Lillian Haggard Rea, worked at the school and, in an attempt to help her younger brother, got him into a juvenile detention center.
"He couldn't focus on school," she recalls to the Bakersfield Californian. "He kept cutting class. He had a pass for the railroad because our dad had worked for the Santa Fe, but he preferred hopping freights because it was more fun."
Unfortunately, Haggard's stint in juvenile detention didn't last long and ultimately did more harm than good. After one day, he just walked out and began several years of wayward living, taking random jobs, including pitching hay, sacking up potatoes and working in the oil fields, while his mother tried multiple juvenile detention centers, all to no avail.
In 1957, Haggard was married and struggling financially when he was arrested for burglary and sent to the local Bakersfield jail. But after an escape attempt, he was transferred to the infamous San Quentin prison, which was the wake-up call he needed to turn his life around. He earned a high school equivalency diploma while incarcerated and came out in 1960 a changed man. His first album, Strangers, was released in 1965.
Haggard was taken aback by the recent honor, since he only spent nine days at the high school. His sister was also surprised, although she notes that it's a nice way to commemorate his numerous successes.
"He's kind old for that diploma," she quips. "But I'm very happy with his life. It's much richer than people know. He has personally paid quite a price for his indiscretions."
“It’s really good; I think it’s the best one we’ve done,” Haggard says. “I think the title of the album is probably going to be Django & Jimmie, about Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. We didn’t really do any swing, per se, we just did straight-ahead songs that we felt good about.”
The men released a video for the album's first single, "It's All Going to Pot,"on April 20, in advance of the record's June 2 release date. Django & Jimmie is available for pre-order on Willie’s Official Online Store, Amazon and Google Play.