From Fort Bragg NCO club to Kennedy Center

“[In 1969] Merle Haggard…. introduced the newly penned composition to a live audience at the noncommissioned officers club in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. ‘It was a small club and the audience had been exceptionally dead,’ Haggard later told a reporter. ‘But then we sang “Okie,” and the whole place went berserk’….

“Besieged, Haggard stiffened…. Within a few seconds he relaxed, realizing the soldiers were merely rushing forward to shower him with handshakes and bear hugs. The next night at a show for the base’s enlisted men, an even more spirited uproar ensued, as eager soldiers hurrahed the song’s apparent excoriation of critics of the Vietnam War….

“[Later] audiences found contradictory and overlapping meanings… Haggard himself has [said ‘Okie from Muscogee’] offers… ‘about 18 different messages.'”

— From “Proud to be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music and Migration to Southern California” by Peter La Chapelle (2007)

Merle Haggard is among recipients of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors (tonight at 9, CBS).