Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Whitley join the Country Hall of Fame

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Two artists who started their careers outside of country music were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame when rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and bluegrass artist turned country star Keith Whitley joined the ranks.

Lewis, the 87-year-old artist nicknamed “The Killer,” was unable to attend Sunday’s investiture ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee due to his doctor’s guidance. But his countrymen Hank Williams Jr. and Kris Kristofferson showed up in his place to accept and honor the Rock. & Roll Hall of Fame.

Whitley’s widow, country star Lorrie Morgan accepted the locket in her name at the ceremony featuring performances by Garth Brooks, Mickey Guyton, Chris Isaak, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, and Alabama. Music executive Joe Galante was also introduced this year, who has played a key role in marketing country music to a wider pop and rock audience since the 1980s.

Lewis, of Ferriday, Louisiana, grew up on country music, but Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee turned him into a rockabilly star, with hits like “Whole Lotta Shakin ‘Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire. ”

Williams, who also helped introduce Lewis to the rock & Hall of Fame in 1986, recalled that Lewis spent time at his home when he was a child and listened to Lewis’ rock songs on the radio. He said Lewis taught him that entertainment is more than skill.

“Jerry Lee doesn’t ask for your attention, he demands it,” Williams said. “He doesn’t take a stage, he commands it.”

In Memphis, Lewis played alongside Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash in the now famous Million Dollar Quartet. Lewis’s career was nearly derailed by the scandal arising from his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Myra, and he faced backlash from fans on a tour of England in 1958 when the crowds became combative.

Lewis was abandoned by concert promoters for several years before achieving a return to the national charts in the late 1960s. He scored # 1 on the Billboard Country Chart with “There must be more to love than that”, “You’d take another chance on me” and “Chantilly Lace”. Her other top country singles included “What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”, “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye” and “To Make Love Sweeter for You”.

Isaak delivered a hilarious version of “Great Balls of Fire” at the ceremony and 85-year-old actor and singer Kristofferson made a rare public appearance to help unveil Lewis’ plaque, which will be set in the Hall of Fame rotunda.

Morgan was moved to tears during her speech, noting that her late husband would feel so undeserving of the honor. Whitley’s first job as a musician was in bluegrass, when he and Ricky Skaggs started playing as teenagers in Ralph Stanley’s band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

“To all of my family, we have missed everyone together and all the fans who loved Keith and visited his grave all the time,” he said.

That bluegrass background made Whitley stand out as a country singer in the 1980s, where she brought tender emotion and incredible vocal range to hits including “When You Say Nothing at All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain”.

But his career ended too early, covering only four years and seven months on the Billboard charts before his death in 1989 from alcohol poisoning at the age of 34. But the singer from Sandy Hook, Kentucky went on to influence numerous country singers who came close to him, including Brooks, who praised the pure country singing and authenticity of him.

“Truth, honesty. The boy could exceed 99 percent of us, “Brooks said.

Galante was the head of RCA Nashville in his 30s and both Morgan and Whitley were among the hit artists he led to success, including Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride, and others. He helped the Alabama band achieve crossover success with multi-platinum hits.

“I was a head of a label, but I was a huge fan of their music,” said Galante. “And it’s all about the music at the end of the day.”


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