For his timeless music and poetic lyrics that have "helped to shape the world of country music for nearly five decades," Merle Haggard is among this year's group of honorees to be recognized by the prestigious Kennedy Center for outstanding contribution to American culture. Other 2010 honorees include Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman and dancer-choreographer-director Bill T. Jones.

The medallions will be officially presented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a private State Department dinner on Dec. 4. An all-star tribute performance for the 2010 honorees will be taped the following night, Dec. 5, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 28.

Honorees are not asked to perform at the gala event. All that is required of them is to sit back in their lofty box seats, relax and join the audience in enjoying the star-studded show presented in their honor.

"We don't put much of a burden on them," says the creator and producer of the event, George Stevens Jr. "You don't sing for your supper. They are not asked to speak or perform. They simply receive the tribute of their colleagues and peers, which really makes it very different for them, and is part of what makes it so special."

While acknowledging that it will be an honor to hear others singing his music that night, Merle -- known as 'the poet of the common man' -- couldn't resist but quip in his signature, plainspoken way, "I don't know exactly what to do ... I guess just sit there and look like you're having fun,"

The two-hour gala event will be attended by President Barack Obama and the First Lady, who will also host the State Department dinner at the White House the night before.

The legendary story of Merle's rise from juvenile delinquency (including time spent in San Quentin Prison) through his success as one of American music's most respected, influential and beloved singer/songwriters of all time, was captured in the PBS American Masters documentary special, Merle Haggard: Learning to Live with Myself, which aired in July 2010.