1961 – 2024
“Toby Keith was big, brash, and never bowed down or slowed down for anyone. His story is a distinctly American one—a former roughneck oil worker who carved out his own space in country music with a sinewy voice and an unbending will to succeed. He wrote his breakthrough songs and later formed his own record label when he felt underserved by Nashville. He relished being an outsider and doing things his way. Proudly patriotic, he didn’t mind if his clear-cut convictions ruffled your feathers. For three decades, he reflected the defiant strength of the country music audience. His memory will continue to stand tall.”
—Kyle Young, CEO
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
About Toby Keith
One of the most successful country artists of his generation, Toby Keith balanced his innate brashness and bravado with a sly wit, a talent for catchy melodies, and a cowboy poet’s flair for concise wordplay and colorful imagery. His rich, instantly recognizable baritone also set him apart, especially in the way he shifted between a conversational tone and muscular theatricality to bring out the drama in his songs.
From the start, he forged his own path to stardom. A strapping six-foot-four former oilfield worker, the Oklahoma native insisted on wielding control of his music, his image, and his outspoken views. At various turning points, he battled with Nashville record executives, television producers, and occasionally other artists. He eventually started his own record label and continued his aggressive recording and touring schedules until 2022, when he went home to focus on his battle with stomach cancer. He died from the disease on February 5, at age sixty-two.
Keith placed more than forty songs in the country Top Ten, including twenty #1 hits, and maintained a constant presence on country radio for more than two decades, starting in 1993. He wrote or co-wrote most of his hits, which mixed narrative tales (“Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “Who’s That Man”), honky-tonk anthems (“I Love This Bar, “Red Solo Cup”), aging (“As Good as I Once Was,” “Don’t Let the Old Man In”), and romance (“God Love Her,” “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This”).
In 2002, Keith’s patriotic song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” created controversy by calling for an aggressive response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Keith created other songs about patriotism and American values, including “Made in America” and “American Car.” He gained a reputation for his commitment to performing for U.S. troops at foreign military bases, headlining eleven USO Tours and staging shows in fifteen countries.
Over the years, he sold more than thirty million albums. The Country Music Association voted him the Male Vocalist of the Year in 2001, and the Academy of Country Music named him Entertainer of the Year in 2002 and 2003. He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2020. In recognition of his songwriting prowess, he was elected to the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021.
Growing up in Moore, Oklahoma, Keith spent nine years performing around Oklahoma and the Southwest before signing with Mercury Records and releasing his first album in 1993. After achieving quick success, he clashed with the label over his creative direction. Keith switched to DreamWorks Records in 1999, when the company opened a Nashville office. He promptly scored a #1 with “How Do You Like Me Now,” marking a bold new direction that continued with such tongue-in-cheek hits as “I Wanna Talk About Me” and “Who’s Your Daddy?” In 2005, Keith founded his own independent label, Show Dog Records, and continued to release Top Ten hits until 2012 and was still reaching the country Top Forty in 2021.