NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF/AP) — Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis, the late country singer Keith Whitley and music executive Joe Galante have been named the 2022 inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
A veteran-era artist and a modern-era artist are inducted each year, along with a rotating category of non-performers, recording musicians and songwriters.
The announcement was hosted by Brooks & Dunn on Tuesday morning from the Hall of Fame rotunda. It was the first time in two years the Country Music Association gathered in the museum to announce the inductees.
Watch the full announcement in the video player below:
"This year’s inductees are trailblazers who each paved their own unique path within Country Music," said Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO. "Jerry Lee, Keith and Joe each found their musical callings early in life and displayed a strong-minded and fierce passion for music making. In very different ways, they all have left a lasting impact on the industry and generations of fans alike. I am thrilled to welcome this deserving class into the Country Music Hall of Fame."
Lewis, 86, nicknamed “The Killer,” wore a red sequined jacket and white shoes at Tuesday's announcement, where he was introduced in the veterans era artist category.
"To be recognized by Country Music with their highest honor is a humbling experience," said Lewis. "The little boy from Ferriday, LA listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams never thought he'd be in a Hall amongst them. I am appreciative of all those who have recognized that Jerry Lee Lewis music is Country Music and to our almighty God for his never-ending redeeming grace."
Over the years, he’s been vocal about being snubbed from the Country Music Hall of Fame, saying he couldn’t understand not being recognized for his country records and contribution to the genre. The Country Music Association created the Hall of Fame and handles balloting.
Lewis first arrived at Sun Records in Memphis at the age of 21. His first big hit for the label "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" in 1957 spent two weeks at the top of Billboard's country and R&B best-sellers charts and peaked at No. 3 on the Top 100. In 1958, Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" spent two weeks at the top of the country chart.
"Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" and "Great Balls of Fire" are now in the Grammy Hall of Fame, with the former also part of the National Recording Registry.
Music historian Colin Escott has described Lewis as "a rock 'n' roller who could never quite get the Country out of his soul, and a Country singer who could never forget rock 'n' roll."
Lewis' career was nearly derailed and spent several years blacklisted before mounting a return to the country charts in the late ’60s. He had top country singles like “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.” He had No. 1 country hits with songs like “There Must Be More to Love Than This,” “Would You Take Another Chance on Me” and “Chantilly Lace.”
Whitley will be inducted into the modern era artist category. Whitley had a short career, spanning just four years and seven months on the Billboard charts before his death at the age of 34 in 1989. But the singer from Sandy Hook, Kentucky, found commercial breakthrough with hits like “When You Say Nothing at All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain." He met Ricky Skaggs when they were both teenagers and they both were hired to be part of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley's band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.
The induction for Whitley has been a long time coming for many artists and fans who were captivated by his emotional voice and singing, including artists like Garth Brooks, who has been championing for Whitley's induction. His widow, fellow country singer Lorrie Morgan, described during the press conference on Tuesday how much it meant to her family and their two children to have him inducted.
“Keith never knew how good he was,” said Morgan. “He would absolutely blown away if he were here today.”
Whitley met Morgan, then a receptionist at a studio, while he was recording the demo of “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” which became a hit for George Strait. They married in November 1986.
"In my heart, this feels like an absolutely appropriate honor, but at the same time, I know that Keith would be painfully humbled, and even shy about accepting an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame," said Morgan. "Music was all about emotion to Keith. It was personal. There were so many great artists he admired, even worshipped. To stand in their company in the Hall of Fame would’ve been overwhelmingly emotional for him. I am thrilled to see him honored this way, and for what it means to my children, Morgan and Jesse Keith; to Keith’s grandchildren; the Whitley family; and to the many, many fans who continue to point to Keith as one of the all-time greats."
Morgan said that fans still visit Whitley's grave site regularly, leaving mementos and paying their respects. She said that she also planned to visit his grave after the press conference to sit on a blanket with her family and cry.
Galante has been inducted in the non-performer category, awarded every three years. In 1974, Galante was transferred to the Nashville office of RCA Records, now known as Sony Music Nashville. He's now become the longest-tenured major-label head in its history. He took the helm at RCA Nashville at just 32 years old and is the youngest person to ever lead a major label's Nashville division. RCA became country music's top label in 1982 and remained there for 11 years.
"When I heard the news I was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was the first time in my entire career I was speechless," said Galante. "I’m humbled, beyond honored and honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this."
During his tenure, Galante has signed artists such as Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride, Lorrie Morgan, K.T. Oslin, Carrie Underwood and Chris Young. He also signed fellow 2022 inductee Keith Whitley. In the 1990s, he returned to New York and became president of RCA, where he signed artists like Wu-Tang Clan and the Dave Matthews Band.
But he returned to Nashville and oversaw the evolution of RCA to Sony BMG Nashville, adding imprints like Arista Nashville and Columbia Nashville. He left Sony Music Nashville in 2010, and has seen many of the artists he worked with over the years become Country Music Hall of Famers, including The Judds only weeks ago.
“I've been here a bunch,” Galante said of the Hall of Fame and Museum building, where the inducted artists have plaques on the wall of the rotunda. “I always walked around saying, ‘I know him, I know her.’ But I didn't believe my name would ever be on that and it's not something that was on my mind.”
He has been a member of the Country Music Association Board of Directors since 1978 and the CMA Foundation Board of Directors since 2011. He was honored with the J. William Denny Award for his lifetime of dedication and contributions to the CMA Board of Directors in 2021. Galante also received the Bob Kingsley Living Legend Award in 2015 from the Opry Trust Fund.
An induction ceremony will be held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum this fall.