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

Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis speaks at the Country Music Hall of Fame after it was announced he will be inducted as a member Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis, the late country singer Keith Whitley and music executive Joe Galante will join 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 by duo Brooks & Dunn.

“I was wondering if they were ever going to induct me,” Lewis said at the press conference. “But they’ve come around and I was really glad and grateful for it.”

From Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis found his initial fame under the guidance of Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, where he played alongside Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash in the now famous Million Dollar Quartet. His energy and ego were showcased on his early rock hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

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. 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.

Lewis’ career was nearly derailed over the scandal of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Myra, and he faced a backlash from fans during a tour in England in 1958, when crowds became combative.

Lewis 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 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, was 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.

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 took the helm at RCA Nashville at age 32, the youngest person to ever lead a major label’s Nashville division. He would go on to sign artists like Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride and more. He helped the band Alabama achieve crossover success with multi-platinum hits. 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. Sony BMG Nashville is now Sony Music 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.”

The three inductees will have a formal induction ceremony in October.