Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Whitley join Country Hall of Fame

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two artists who began their careers outside of country music have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in early rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and bluegrass performer-turned-country star Keith Whitley.

Lewis, an 87-year-old artist nicknamed “The Killer,” was unable to attend Sunday’s induction ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, due to his doctor’s orders. But his country stars Hank Williams Jr. appeared. and Kris Kristofferson to accept and honor the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer in his place.

Whitley’s widow, country star Lorrie Morgan, accepted the medallion on his behalf during a ceremony that featured performances by Garth Brooks, Mickey Guyton, Chris Isaak, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert and Alabama. This year also inducted music director Joe Galante, who played a key role in marketing country music to a wider pop and rock audience beginning in the 1980s.

Lewis, from Ferriday, Louisiana, grew up on country music, but Sam Phillips at 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 induct Lewis into the Rock & Hall of Fame in 1986, recalled how Lewis would spend time at his house as a child listening to Lewis’ rock songs on the radio. He said Lewis taught him that entertainment is more than a skill.

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

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

Lewis was dropped by concert promoters for several years before returning to the country charts in the late 1960s. He had #1 hits on the Billboard Country Chart with “There Must Be More to Love Than This”, “Would You Take Another Chance on Me” and “Chantilly Lace”. His 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.”

Isaac delivered a rousing version of “Great Balls of Fire” during the ceremony, and the 85-year-old actor and singer Kristofferson made a rare public appearance to help unveil Lewis’ plaque, which will be installed 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 work as a musician was in bluegrass, when he and Ricky Skaggs began playing as teenagers in Ralph Stanley’s band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

“My whole family, we all missed him together and all the fans who loved Keith and kept visiting his grave,” she said.

That bluegrass background made Whitley stand out as a country singer in the 1980s, where he 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 was cut short, spanning just four years and seven months on the Billboard charts before he died of alcohol poisoning in 1989 at the age of 34. But the singer from Sandy Hook, Kentucky, went on to influence a number of country singers who appeared alongside him. , including Brooks, who praised his pure country singing and authenticity.

“Truth, honesty. The guy could beat 99 percent of us,” Brooks said.

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

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




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