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

Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Whitley Join the Country Hall of Fame
Kris Kristofferson (L) stands with the plaque of honoree Jerry Lee Lewis during the Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 16, 2022. (Wade Payne/Invision/AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Two artists who started their careers outside of country music were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as Jerry Lee Lewis and Keith Whitley joined the ranks.

Lewis, the 87-year-old artist nicknamed “The Killer,” was unable to attend the induction ceremony on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, due to guidance from his doctor. But his fellow country stars Hank Williams Jr. and Kris Kristofferson showed up in his stead to accept and honor the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.

Whitley’s widow, fellow country star Lorrie Morgan, accepted the medallion on his behalf during the ceremony featuring performances by Garth Brooks, Mickey Guyton, Chris Isaak, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, and Alabama. Also inducted this year was music executive Joe Galante.

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 started playing as teenagers in Ralph Stanley’s band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

“My whole family, we’ve all missed him together and all the fans who loved Keith and visited his gravesite all the time,” she said.

2022 Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony
Lorrie Morgan holds a medallion accepted on behalf of her late husband and honoree Keith Whitley during the Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 16, 2022. (Wade Payne/Invision/AP)

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 ended too short, spanning just four years and seven months on the Billboard charts before his 1989 death from alcohol poisoning at age 34. But the singer from Sandy Hook, Kentucky, continued to influence numerous country singers who came up alongside him, including Brooks, who praised his pure country singing and authenticity.

“Truth, honesty. The guy could outsing 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 that he brought to success, including Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride and more. He helped the band Alabama achieve crossover success with multi-platinum hits.

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