Country Music Icon Toby Keith passed away at 62

With singles like “Who’s Your Daddy?” he established himself as an aggressive performer. He announced in 2022 that he had Stomach cancer.

Country music star Toby Keith passed away, as his official website and social media accounts reported early on Tuesday. He was 62.

The statement said he “passed peacefully last night on February 5th, surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time.”

Mr. Keith is survived by his mother, wife of 39 years, Tricia (Lucus) Keith, two daughters, Shelley Covel and Krystal Sandubrae, a son, Stelen, a sister, Tonnie, a brother, Tracy, and four grandkids. Keith announced in June 2022 that he’d been undergoing treatment for stomach cancer since the previous fall.

Tributes started pouring in on Tuesday after the announcement of Keith’s death. “Too many rides in my old man’s car listening to Toby Keith,” country artist Zach Bryan wrote in a social media post that brought back memories of him. What a devastating news! Our sympathies are with you during this difficult time.

Notable country musician John Rich paid tribute to Keith, describing him as a “friend and legend.” He was an extraordinary human being, a first-rate singer/songwriter, and an authentic patriot. His passing will be deeply regretted, he wrote.

An unabashed patriot

The 6-foot-4 country music star who can be divisive at times, Keith became famous during the country music boom of the ’90s when he wrote songs that fans adored and established a character based on his macho, pro-American attitude. Throughout his career, Keith engaged in public feuds with fellow celebrities and journalists, while also facing repeated rejections from record executives who sought to tame his natural intensity.

He gained fame for his patriotic ballads written after 9/11, such as “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” and his rowdy bar songs, such as “I Love This Bar” and “Red Solo Cup.” He could sing both love songs and drinking songs with his strong, booming voice and his hilarious, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.

Long journey to stardom

After a stint as a roughneck in Oklahoma’s oil fields, Keith played semi-professional football and eventually began a successful singing career.

Who’s Your Daddy

“I don’t overanalyze things,” Keith told The Associated Press in 2001, following the popularity of his song “I’m Just Talking About Tonight.” He also sang and wrote about life.

The growing oil fields not only taught Keith the importance of hard work and perseverance, but they also taught him the value of a dollar.

In 1996, Keith told the Associated Press that the money to be made was unbelievable. I started this work in December of 1979 after graduating from high school in 1980, and they offered me $50,000 a year. I was eighteen years old.

Unfortunately, Keith was unable to prevent the collapse of the domestic oil field business. He said that it nearly broke them. So that’s new information. This time, I’ve managed my finances well.

He played defensive end with the Oklahoma City Drillers, an affiliate of the former USFL that went out of business a few years ago. However, he was able to maintain a steady income by performing with his band at red dirt roadhouses across Texas and Oklahoma.

“All through this whole thing, the only constant thing we had was music,” he commented. “However, it’s not easy to merely declare, ‘I’m going to go make my fortune singing music or writing music.'” I didn’t have any ties.

At last, it happens

His journey eventually led him to Nashville, where he caught the eye of Harold Shedd, the head of Mercury Records and a legendary producer for the legendary band Alabama. Mercury released his platinum debut album, “Toby Keith,” in 1993 after Shedd signed him.

His first single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 for country in the ’90s with 3 million plays.

Keith felt like the label execs were attempting to steer him towards a pop sound, while Shania Twain’s star power took centre stage.

“They were trying to get me to compromise, and I was living a miserable existence,” according to Keith in the AP. “Everybody was trying to mould me into something I was not.”

After releasing albums that included singles like “Who’s That Man” and a cover of Sting’s “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying,” Keith signed with DreamWorks Records in 1999.

His first single to reach the Top 40 charts, “How Do You Like Me Now?!” which had been in the charts for several weeks, became a smash hit at that time. After taking the stage to announce his 2001 Academy of Country Music Award wins, he exclaimed, “I’ve waited a long time for this!” and received the titles of male vocalist of the year and album of the year. “Nine years!”

While Keith disregarded Bobby Braddock’s “I Wanna Talk About Me,” a spoken-word song about a man whose spouse is too chatty, the song’s resemblance to the rap cadence brought him recognition. “They’re going to call it a rap song, (although) there ain’t nobody doing rap who would call it rap,” he explained to “Billboard” the year before.

No stranger to controversies

After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Keith’s views became more visible; he initially identified as a conservative Democrat but eventually changed his name to an independent. His presidential performances include those for Bush, Obama, and Trump, the latter of whom bestowed the National Medal of the Arts upon him in 2021. He appeared to actively seek out the controversy that his songs and forthright beliefs occasionally sparked.

The song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” from 2002 contained a threat—”We’ll put a boot in your ass—it’s the American way”—to anyone who ventured to provoke America.

Producers at an ABC patriotic Fourth of July special decided the song was too violent, so they cut it. Singer-songwriter Steve Earle criticized Keith’s song, accusing it of pandering to people’s worst instincts during a time of fear and vulnerability.

After singer Natalie Maines expressed her disgrace at then-President George W. Bush in front of an audience, the Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) became the object of Keith’s wrath. As for Keith’s song, Maines had previously deemed it “ignorant.”

Using a doctored photo of Maines with an image of Saddam Hussein at his concerts, Keith—who had before stated that he backed any artist’s ability to share their views on politics—further infuriated his already irate fan base.

A lot of people thought Maines was trying to send Keith a risqué message when she wore a blouse that read “FUTK” onstage at the 2003 ACM Awards.

Additionally, he publicly slammed actor Ethan Hawke for penning a “Rolling Stone” article about Kris Kristofferson and an unidentified country singer that sounded suspiciously like Keith. During an awards show backstage press conference, reporters were repeating the tale when Keith became enraged with Hawke, accusing him of spreading a “fictitious (expletive) lie.”

Keith, who admittedly retains grudges, left the 2003 ACM Awards early, missing out on being named entertainer of the year after being passed over in earlier categories. He was represented by Vince Gill, who accepted. He returned the next year and repeated as champion, garnering additional accolades for top male vocalist and album of the year for “Shock ‘n Y’all.”

But his pro-military position was more than simply song lyrics. He visited and performed for troops stationed overseas on eleven separate USO tours. Over the course of his career, he contributed millions to various charities, including the construction of a house in Oklahoma City for cancer patients and their families.

Keith started over in 2005 with the founding of his own record label, Show Dog, alongside record executive Scott Borchetta, who had also just formed his own label, Big Machine, following Universal Music Group’s acquisition of DreamWorks.

“Probably 75 percent of the people in this town think I’ll fail, and the other 25 percent hope I fail,” he stated that year.

Keith, Trace Adkins, Joe Nichols, Josh Thompson, Clay Walker, and Phil Vassar were all signed to the label, which subsequently changed its name to Show Dog-Universal Music.

“Love Me If You Can,” “She Never Cried in Front of Me,” and “Red Solo Cup” were among his later popular songs. Songwriters Hall of Fame induction was bestowed upon him in 2015.

In November 2022, just a few months after disclosing his stomach cancer diagnosis, he was bestowed the BMI Icon award by the performance rights organisation BMI.

Keith said to the assembly of other singers and songwriters, “I always felt like songwriting was the most important part of this whole industry.”

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