Almost everyone knows that the “Okie from Muskogee” has married five times, but not much has been known about Merle Haggard’s children. Did you know that they are as musically talented as their father? Most of them are even following their father’s musical footsteps.
Let’s get to know more about them below.
Dana was the first of four children for Merle Haggard and his first wife, Leona Hobbs. Unfortunately, Dana died in 2018 when she was 61. She is believed to have died in her sleep of natural causes. Though her brother, Ben, revealed that Dana was experiencing heartache upon the second anniversary of their father’s death.
“Her husband left for work early in the morning, and she was still asleep,” her sister Kelli Haggard Patterson said. “When he got home later that day, he found her, and she hadn’t moved.” Dana left behind her husband, Terry Lemons, and their four children, a stepson and nine grandchildren.
Dana was born in 1957. She spent her early years touring with her brother Marty for the short-lived Marty and Dana and the Driftwood Band. She also used to be a backup singer of the Strangers, Haggard’s backing band for several years.
Kelli described Dana as outspoken and outgoing, that “she couldn’t be in a grocery checkout line without making a friend.”
Marty, who was born in 1958, was named after singer-songwriter Marty Robbins. He started his acting career during his teens. He had a recurring role in the CBS drama titled The Fitzpatricks. He also has a bit part in a TV movie that starred legendary actor, Henry Fonda.
Marty toured with Dana for three years as Marty and Dana and the Driftwood Band. Due to his father’s request, Marty joined Merle’s road band, playing rhythm guitar and singing harmony.
In 1985, Marty pursued a solo career. He signed with MTM Records and released four singles. The most successful among was “Trains Make Me Lonesome.” The song peaked at No. 57 on the country charts and helped him earned a nomination from the Academy of Country Music for Top New Male Vocalist.
Today, Marty still performs as a tribute to his dad.
Kelli Haggard Patterson
Kelli is the third among Merle Haggard’s kids. Though not much has been known about Kelli, she is often present in their family events, especially when they lost their eldest sister.
She considered Dana to be her best friend. “Our life when we were young was very different from what dad’s youngest ones, Ben and Jenessa, experienced, so the four of us, Dana, me, Marty and Noel, clung to each other. This is like having a limb removed,” she said.
In 2018, she also spoke on behalf of the family when they decided to put Haggard’s home in Bakersfield out in the market. Kelli was only seven years old when their family moved to the 3,600-square-foot house.
Noel is another country music artist in the family. “I started messing with music when I was 13,” Noel revealed. “My first guitar came from Merle – it was a Martin Triple O, 45-D Jimmie Rodgers style. There were only 150 made, and it had my name in it in abalone. He gave it to me for my 14th birthday party. He wanted me to quit playing his!”
In 1997, he signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records and released his debut album, “One Lifetime.” Two singles from the album reached No. 75 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
Nowadays, he’s been touring together with his brother Ben. Merle’s sons continue to pass along the legacy of their father’s music while also forging their own path in the country music industry.
Jenessa Haggard Bennett
Jenessa is Merle’s eldest child with his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane. Though she did not follow her father’s and siblings’ musical footsteps since she has been to culinary school, she handled most of Merle’s business.
In 2016, Jenessa and her husband, Brian Bennett, worked with the Colorado Weed Co. to dedicate a number of strains to her father. They started out with what Merle liked to smoke.
Ben is the second child of Merle with Lane, and of course, he’s into music too. He’s been the lead guitarist in Merle’s longtime band for eight years, ever since he was 15 years old. He was also a regular on Merle’s recordings.
Ben recalled his father telling him, “You’d be an idiot not to take my guitar and my bus, not to sing my songs for as long as you can… Go out there and play until there’s nobody to play to.”
Scott is a product of a relationship outside Merle’s five marriages. He was raised in Alabam and did not meet his father until he was around 37 years old. Just like his brothers, Scott has also decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by performing country music.
However, there has been a delay in pursuing his dream of becoming a country music singer. Due to the rough economy, Scott became a truck driver instead. Finally, in 2006, he was able to start fulfilling the dream and headlined with many country music greats.
Merle Haggard’s children, especially his sons, have definitely taken the torch from the paterfamilias as they continue to showcase their talents to keep his legacy alive.