The Country Music Hall of Fame's CMA Theater hosted an induction ceremony for the second time in six months. Following the COVID-19 quarantine-delayed May 1 induction of The Judds, Ray Charles, the late pedal steel player Pete Drake and drummer Eddie Bayers, the Hall awarded membership medallions to record executive Joe Galante, now Rock and Roll and Country Music Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis, plus posthumously honoring singer-songwriter Keith Whitley.
Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern opened the proceedings by acknowledging Loretta Lynn's recent passing, then noting that Galante, Lewis and Whitley were a trio of "outliers who became insiders" who "rewrote the rules on their own terms."
Galante was inducted by Brooks and Dunn's Kix Brooks, while Whitley was inducted by 20212 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Garth Brooks. As for Lewis, he was inducted by 2020 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Hank Williams, Jr.
Regarding Galante, Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young noted that Queens, New York native Galante's 36-year career in Music City started at RCA Records in 1974 when he was relocated there as a financial analyst. By 1981, he was a Vice President at the label, inspired by the work of acts like Waylon Jennings, Ronnie Milsap and Dolly Parton to evolve his listening tastes past his youthful love of rock acts like The Beatles, Iron Butterfly and the Rolling Stones, plus his pre-Nashville RCA days aiding with the releases of albums by David Bowie and Lou Reed.
Young made an intriguing comparison between Galante's successful leadership style and "Moneyball," Michael Lewis' two-decade-old book-turned-film chronicling how Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball franchise, used analytical, evidence-based, "sabermetrics" to assemble a competitive baseball team without a large budget.
He noted how, between 1979-1990, Galante led RCA Records to be Nashville's most successful label, highlighting the success of acts including Alabama, Clint Black and The Judds in that number. Moreover, in the two following decades, Young noted that his "shrewd judgment" of country music led the genre to sustainable crossover success from "AM and FM to platinum."
Moreover, between 1990-2010, Galante's chart-topping success with now quintessential country acts, including Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood were highlighted.
"Joe Galante changed my life," exclaimed 2021 Country Music Hall of Famer Wynonna Judd from the crowd. Moreover, while inducting Galante, Brooks added that one of his best attributes was that the executive "[had] more faith in us then we had in ourselves." To wit, upon accepting the honor, Galante related a story of how Miranda Lambert's father once told him that he "changed [his] little girl's life" before humbly noting how being inducted was a "spectacular feeling," but that it's "all about artists, music and songs at the end of the day."
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To honor Galante's induction, a trio of performers -- Alabama (who performed their 1979 hit "My Home's in Alabama"), Miranda Lambert (who sang her 2009 smash "White Liar") and Kenny Chesney (who performed 2003's "The Good Stuff") -- all appeared. However, of the trio, it was current-era stadium filler Chesney whose appearance both stunned those in attendance and featured an artist as in awe of the inductee as they are at the moment. The "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" vocalist has 32 No. 1 country radio singles. However, to see him in awe of the man who saw the promise in him as a songwriter to start him on his quarter-century-long run of acclaim was heart-warmingly noteworthy.
As for Whitley, the Sandy Hook, Kentucky native's bittersweet and abbreviated country music career was highlighted by Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Young as being one that occurred because of the "I'm No Stranger To The Rain" singer's "depth, richness, and maturity" in his vocal performances that conveyed "deep emotional investments in song." He added that these qualities bore similarities to his bluegrass hero Left Frizzell, as well as George Jones and Merle Haggard.
Whitley gave himself until 30 to "make it" when he departed for Nashville at the turn of the 1980s. Because, as Young noted, he was a "once in a generation singer" with a "preacher's soul, deacon's reverence and a lover's heartache," his single "Miami, My Amy" broke into the country radio charts' top 20 in 1985 -- at that time, he was 30 years old.
Inducting Whitley was perhaps his biggest fan -- Country Music Hall of Famer Brooks. "For all country music fans, this night is long overdue," stated the "Friends In Low Places" vocalist upon starting his comments. He offered colorful but poignant remarks in which he noted the duality of Whitley's life simply being that "everything that is a blessing is a curse, but everything that's a curse is a blessing." Continuing, he added that though he had a voice that was better than 99% of singers" and was the "greatest, most unbelievable voice to ever grace country music," he also sang songs that could make people "get lower than a well-digger's shoes."
An emotional and overwhelmed Lorrie Morgan noted that Whitley's brother Dwight was attending the event. Then, she recalled the moment she learned who Whitley was before singing on a Saturday night edition of the Grand Ole Opry. Whitley's previously-mentioned "Miami, My Amy" was playing on a radio countdown show. Stunned by its inimitable style, she pulled her car over on Briley Parkway until the song ended. Then, joking to herself that she loved Whitley's voice so much she wanted to marry him when the radio announcer stated he was playing on the edition of the Opry before the one on which Morgan was scheduled to appear, she "floored [her] car's gas pedal to hurry [to the Opry]."
Honoring Whitley via song was his longtime bluegrass-loving bandmate, contemporary and friend, Ricky Skaggs, who joined Justin Moses and Molly Tuttle for a rendition of Skaggs and Whitley's old band, JD Crowe and The New South's "Tennessee Blues." Grammy-nominated country performer Mickey Guyton was also visibly nerve-wracked before honoring Whitley with "When You Say Nothing at All," while Brooks' take on "Don't Close Your Eyes" was more than capably delivered with his trademark aplomb.
Jerry Lee Lewis
CEO Young referred to the evening's final inductee Lewis as "a pillar of country music and rock and roll, who out-sang and out-hell-raised his contemporaries with wild abandon." He chronicled the numerous faults and successes of his 87 years on Earth but highlighted that "The Killer" himself felt that "country music is where he felt the most at home."
Hank WIlliams, Jr. -- an artist considered of equal or greater "outlaw" status in country music than Lewis -- inducted him. "Jerry Lee Lewis taught me how to boogie-woogie at 4916 Franklin Road," stated the "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down" singer, noting his mother's Nashville home address where Williams the younger and Lewis played side-by-side at the piano during the 1960s. Highlighting that Lewis was a rare artist who "demands, commands and owns" every bit of his performances and the stages on which he performed them, it was a bittersweet notion that Lewis -- because of his advanced age and health condition following a minor stroke in 2019 -- was unable to attend the induction ceremony. However, Kris Kristofferson appeared to accept Lewis' medallion honor and plaque unveiling in his stead.
The evening's best-received trio of performances were reserved for Lewis. Lee Ann Womack's version of late-era Lewis' 1977 classic "Middle Age Crazy, Chris Isaak's take on iconic Lewis cut "Great Balls of Fire" and The McCrary Sisters offering a version of "My God Is Real" (the song that Lewis performed and was reprimanded for too secular a take during his brief time in seminary school as a teenager) that caused not just a standing ovation, but the CMA Theater standing at rapt attention for the entire performance.
In one evening, the length and breadth of country music's roots -- Galante from Queens to Nashville, Lewis from Sam Phillips and Sun Records to global, pop-redefining success and Whitley's journey from Kentucky bluegrass to the hearts and souls of country music's greatest-selling artist and beyond -- were spotlighted.
Hank Williams Jr. referred to Jerry Lee Lewis during the event as "the best as long as people make recorded music." That sentiment rings true when spread to the legacies of all three men now inducted as members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Country Music Hall of Fame 2022: Galante, Lewis, Whitley celebrated