Merle continues to rack up the awards and accolades more than 45 years after his first album was released. He was inducted earlier this month into California’s Hall of Fame, in a class that included Barbra Streisand, Betty White and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He was also honored in December as part of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, at a special ceremony with President Obama, fellow honorees Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, composer Bill T. Jones and dancer/choreographer Jerry Herman. An all-star cast of performers paid tribute to the honorees, including Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley and Kid Rock.
“[Oprah] and I had some funny things happen. She leaned over to me one time during the presentation and she said we came the farthest,” the country legend reveals. “She sent me some gifts when we got home. There was a six-pack of some of the most expensive champagne I’ve seen in my life. She’s quite a lady.”
Merle describes fellow honoree Paul McCartney as not being “very funny,” but says the ceremony made him a new fan of the Commander in Chief. “He was really nice to us and he was nice to everybody else. It wasn’t just a brush-by — he made a special effort to get to know us, the singer says of President Obama. “I was highly impressed with him. I’m not one to go for the charisma, [but] I realize that’s a talent and it’s really not something that may or may not make his presidency better. He has that charisma. I think that’s necessary and I think that when you represent America around the world, you need it. Ronald Reagan had it, and Bill Clinton had it.”