The country legend was honored along side ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, Broadway composer Jerry Herman, TV star Oprah Winfrey and dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones. Vince Gill led the tribute to Haggard, who was honored by his friends Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson at the event. Merle Haggard, Nelson and Kristofferson also announced plans to work together on a supertrio project for 2011.
While the Kennedy Center Honor was a special night for Haggard, it was made even more-so thanks to an all-clear diagnosis from his doctors following his recent surgery to remove a cancerous lobe from his right lung. "I think I'm all right now," Haggard told Rolling Stone. "I went down and had a check-up just prior to going back for this little gig (Kennedy Center Honors) and I was clear. I didn't have anything, and that's an awful good sign."
Haggard went on to defend President Obama in the interview, saying "It's really almost criminal what they [the media] do with our President. There seems to be no shame or anything. They call him all kinds of names all day long, saying he's doing certain things that he's not. It's just a big old political game that I don't want to be part of."
He described his meeting with the President and First Lady as "very cordial" and that he was surprised to find President Obama "very humble."
"They made a special effort to make me feel welcome. It was not at all the way the media described him to be ... He's not conceited. He's very humble about being the President of the United States, especially in comparison to some presidents we've had who come across like they don't need anybody's help."
Watch Vince Gill pay tribute to Merle Haggard at the Kennedy Center Honors.