Hall of Fame Members
Hall of Fame Class of 2022
Joe Galante distinguished himself as one of country music’s most successful record executives. He helped steer the careers of Alabama, Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, the Judds, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Keith Whitley, and other best-selling artists.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Veterans Era Artist
An explosive rockabilly showman, Jerry Lee Lewis was also among country music’s most expressive performers, with a distinctive and dynamic style as a singer and pianist. His biggest Sun Records releases, “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” were country #1s as well as pop hits.
Modern Era Artist
A premier vocal stylist, Keith Whitley helped define country music’s new traditionalist resurgence of the 1980s. Born near Sandy Hook, Kentucky, he proved an adept singer and guitarist as a youngster. After apprenticing in the bluegrass bands of Ralph Stanley and J. D. Crowe, he signed with RCA Records. In five years, he recorded a dozen Top Twenty solo country singles, including five consecutive #1 hits.
Joe Galante, Jerry Lee Lewis, and
Keith Whitley Join the Country Music Hall of Fame
Longtime Nashville record company executive Joe Galante, incendiary pianist and singer Jerry Lee Lewis, and influential country vocal stylist Keith Whitley officially joined the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday, October 16. The trio of country music luminaries “took very different paths to greatness,” said Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young, but together they became the Hall of Fame’s 147th, 148th, and 149th members during a star-studded Medallion Ceremony filled with tributes both heartfelt and humorous and musical performances that ranged from tender acoustic songs to raucous romps that brought the crowd to their feet.
“They were all outliers who became the ultimate insiders: a wild pioneer of rockabilly, a hard-living Kentucky balladeer, and a record executive who dared to believe that Nashville could be more than an outpost for New York and L.A. labels,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, the organization that elects new Country Music Hall of Fame members and underwrites the Medallion Ceremony.
Throughout the night, those honoring Galante, Lewis, and Whitley testified time and again about the influence the three men had on their own lives and careers. Whether they considered themselves fans, friends, or family of the new Hall of Fame members, they spoke about the community that surrounded the new Hall of Fame members throughout their lives and careers, and that now surrounds them in this esteemed group.
“In case this is your first time to be here, welcome to the greatest night of the year for country music,” Country Music Hall of Fame member Garth Brooks told the audience while inducting Whitley. “This is one of the greatest nights for me as a country music fan.”
ABOUT THE MEDALLION CEREMONY
The Country Music Hall of Fame’s annual Medallion Ceremony celebrates the moment when the year’s members-elect officially join their country music heroes, influences, and peers as Hall of Fame members. Considered the genre’s most prestigious event, the invitation-only ceremony highlights the talent, achievements, and legacy that make each new member deserving of country music’s highest honor. Emotional speeches, surprise musical tributes, and video biographies—featuring rare, recorded performances, televised interviews, and historic photos—fill each Medallion Ceremony, which is produced by the museum.
The ceremony’s musical performers included Country Music Hall of Fame members Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen of Alabama, Bill Anderson, Garth Brooks, and Ricky Skaggs, as well as Kenny Chesney, Mickey Guyton, Chris Isaak, Miranda Lambert, the McCrary Sisters, Justin Moses, Molly Tuttle, and Lee Ann Womack. Their performances were backed by the Medallion All-Star Band, led by musical director Biff Watson on acoustic guitar and featuring drummer Mark Beckett, keyboard player Jen Gunderman, harmony singers Tania Hancheroff and Kim Keyes, bassist Rachel Loy, pedal steel player Russ Pahl, fiddler and mandolin player Deanie Richardson, acoustic guitarist and harmony singer Jeff White, and electric guitarist Charlie Worsham.
As is the longstanding custom, each new Country Music Hall of Fame member selected a fellow member to officially induct them into the Hall of Fame. This year, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn inducted Galante, Garth Brooks inducted Whitley, and Hank Williams Jr. inducted Lewis. Other Hall of Fame members in attendance included Jerry Bradley, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Brenda Lee, Charlie McCoy, Oak Ridge Boys members Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, and William Lee Golden, Don Schlitz, Ricky Skaggs, Connie Smith, Ray Stevens, Marty Stuart, Randy Travis, and E. W. “Bud” Wendell.
Before the night’s first induction, the audience observed a moment of silence in memory of Loretta Lynn, the one Country Music Hall of Fame member who had died since the last Medallion Ceremony, which took place in May. Lynn—“an extraordinary songwriter, singer, and vibrant presence in American life and culture,” said Young—died at the age of ninety on October 4, less than two weeks before Sunday night’s ceremony.
“Joe Galante changed my life!” shouted Country Music Hall of Fame member Wynonna Judd, unprompted, from the audience as Young spoke about the New Yorker-turned-Nashvillian’s four-decade career as a record company executive who modernized the country music recording industry’s business practices and expanded the genre’s commercial horizons.
“There’s a witness,” Young replied to Judd, as he name-checked several recording artists who benefited from Galante’s aptitude for recognizing and developing talent. That group includes, among others, modern-day star Carrie Underwood, fellow 2022 Hall of Fame inductee Keith Whitley, and three acts who performed in Galante’s honor at the CMA Theater.
During the Medallion Ceremony, Alabama members Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen offered their 1980 single “My Home’s in Alabama,” the title track of their first album with Galante’s RCA Records Nashville. Miranda Lambert, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, played a stripped-down version of her first #1 single, 2009’s “White Liar,” released after Galante took over as chairman of her record company, Sony Music Nashville. And Kenny Chesney, whom Galante signed to BNA Records after Chesney’s original Nashville record label, Capricorn Records, closed, performed his 2002 #1 single “The Good Stuff.”
“I thought on my way here about the people that we meet when we first come to town, and [how] you can go down a lot of different roads,” said Chesney, who called Galante “Papa Bear.” “I was trying to think about what my life would be like had I not met you. And it ain’t good,” the singer said, drawing a hearty laugh from Galante.
Born and raised in Queens, Galante started his career as a budget analyst with RCA Records in New York in 1971. “Joe came to Nashville nearly fifty years ago as a junior financial analyst and a Sixties rock fan. He knew his Beatles and his Stones, his Cream and his Iron Butterfly, but Nashville didn’t know what to make of him, and he didn’t know what to make of Nashville,” said Young, explaining how what was supposed to be a two-year assignment turned into something much longer and greater after the music of Waylon Jennings, Ronnie Milsap, and Dolly Parton converted Galante into a country music fan and champion.
Before presenting Galante with his medallion, Kix Brooks of Hall of Fame duo Brooks & Dunn explained just how important a business person like Galante can be to an artist. “Sometimes it takes a guy like Joe Galante,” Brooks said, “whose life depends on us, to tell us that what we’re doing is magic, who sometimes has more faith in us than we may have in ourselves that day.”
During his speech, Galante thanked many of the other people who contributed to that success, and who helped him learn the country music business.
“You don’t get here without people helping you, especially for a guy from New York coming in and going, ‘What? What is this I’m listening to?’” Galante admitted, thanking in particular RCA New York executive Frank Mancini, RCA Nashville executive Jerry Bradley, and longtime BMI executive Frances Preston.
Galante retired as chairman of Sony Music Nashville in 2010, after twenty-eight years in record label leadership, and turned his energy to philanthropic work: among other efforts, he is a forty-four-year member of the CMA Board of Directors and a CMA Foundation founding board member, and he established the Phran Galante Memorial Fund for Lung Cancer Research in honor of his wife, who died in 2019.
Galante’s parents—first-generation Americans from Sicily—didn’t exactly understand what he did at work, Galante said in closing his remarks, but every week, his father would buy the new issue of Billboard from a newsstand and look for his son’s name and picture in its pages. He saved the clippings in a book Galante found after his parents’ death.
“I can assure you,” Galante said in conclusion, “I will not need any photographs or clippings to remind me of tonight.”
Keith Whitley died more than thirty years before his Country Music Hall of Fame induction, but a trio of performances—from a standout up-and-coming country singer, from an old friend of Whitley’s who was joined by two young bluegrass virtuosos, and from a Hall of Fame member who began his record-breaking career only months before Whitley’s death—reinforced how impactful his career had been.
“I am extremely nervous because I am singing one of the greatest songs of our lifetime,” Mickey Guyton admitted when she walked onstage. Her sweet, slow version of “When You Say Nothing at All”—a #1 single for Whitley in 1988—included a lyric change nodding to Whitley’s wife, country singer Lorrie Morgan, who sat in the front row of the CMA Theater and embraced Guyton from the audience after her performance.
Whitley made his mark in bluegrass in the 1970s before helping define country music’s New Traditionalist movement in the 1980s. His solo career was barely five years long—he “served a long apprenticeship for so few years at the top,” Young said—but he earned eight Top Twenty songs during his lifetime, as well as six posthumously.
“[Whitley’s songs were] actual life put to music. . . . It was the reason why we loved him, and probably the reason why we don’t have him anymore,” fellow Hall of Fame member Garth Brooks said after playing a solo, acoustic version of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”—another 1988 #1 for Whitley— and before presenting Morgan with Whitley’s Hall of Fame member medallion.
Born near Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Whitley and friend Ricky Skaggs earned spots in Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys band as young teenagers. Prior to his move to Nashville to pursue a recording career as a mainstream country artist like his heroes Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, and Hank Williams, Whitley also played with J. D. Crowe and the New South. Skaggs, also now a Country Music Hall of Fame member, performed Crowe and his band’s “Tennessee Blues” with Justin Moses and Molly Tuttle to honor that portion of Whitley’s career.
“We love you, Keith. We miss you, boy,” Skaggs said at the end of the intimate performance.
“Music wasn’t just an option for Keith Whitley—it was the only option he ever seriously considered,” Young said, but “when he began to achieve his wildest dreams, he had a hard time believing it [and] a hard time believing he even deserved it.” Whitley struggled with self-doubt and alcoholism, and when he died in 1989 of acute alcohol poisoning, at the age of thirty-four, he left a promising and still-influential career unfinished.
“He would feel so undeserving,” an emotional Morgan said of Whitley from stage. Morgan added that Whitley was three weeks away from being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry when he died. “He didn’t know it, and he would have never suspected [that he’d be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame] in his life,” she said. “This is the greatest honor.”
JERRY LEE LEWIS
Although Jerry Lee Lewis was unable to make the trip for his Country Music Hall of Fame induction at the last minute—his doctor told him on Sunday morning that it was too risky for him to travel—the artists who showed up to honor him made sure he was fully there in spirit.
Lee Ann Womack’s pitch-perfect rendition of Lewis’s late-1970s Top Five “Middle Age Crazy” kept the focus on the song’s lyrics—the story of a man who’s “middle aged crazy / Trying to prove he still can”—accented by deft guitar work from Charlie Worsham. Medallion All-Star Band keyboard player Jen Gunderman did her best Lewis impression to back Chris Isaak on a rowdy rendition of Lewis’s signature hit “Great Balls of Fire.” But it was the McCrary Sisters and pianist Kevin McKendree who brought the crowd to their feet clapping in time the trio sang a rousing version of the gospel hymn “My God Is Real.” In the early 1950s, as Young explained, Lewis was kicked out of the Southwestern Bible Institute for performing a boogie-woogie version of the hymn.
Lewis, nicknamed “The Killer,” is a cornerstone of rock & roll, but the Ferriday, Louisiana, native also embraced country music—as well as gospel hymns, blues music, and Tin Pan Alley songs—as an essential part of his style from the very beginning. “Though some might have been surprised when his country career blossomed, it was no transformation. This is who he had been his entire life,” Young pointed out.
Hank Williams Jr., who inducted Lewis into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an inaugural member in 1986, echoed that sentiment before presenting Lewis’s friend and fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson with Lewis’s medallion. “Rock & roll and country have always been closer in style than some people want to admit,” Williams Jr. said. “To Jerry Lee, it didn’t matter what you call it. He’s a Louisiana man, and when he sings and plays, you hear the Mississippi Delta and the rice farms and the Cajun roadhouses and the New Orleans honking blues.”
“He became one of the greatest showmen in music,” Young said, “that the world has ever seen. And as he will readily tell you himself,” Young said. “And really, who are we to argue?”
Lewis fell from favor after his marriage to his underage cousin became public in 1958, but a decade later, urged on by producer Jerry Kennedy, he returned to prominence as a mainstream country artist with hits such as “Another Place Another Time” and “To Make Love Sweeter for You.” He earned thirty-four Top Twenty country hits between 1968 and 1981, cementing his reputation as an exceptional country entertainer.
“For over sixty years singing music professionally, country has always been the genre where I felt the most at home,” Lewis stated in a letter read aloud during the Medallion Ceremony by Hank Williams Jr. “I’m honored to be going into that Hall of Fame rotunda with some of my heroes.”
Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson and the Medallion All-Star Band led the crowd in the Medallion Ceremony’s traditional finale, a rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
“This is what we do here,” Anderson told the audience, “and this is what we carry with us when we leave here.”