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Toby Keith Elected Into Country Music Hall of Fame, in Voting That Wrapped Up Days Before His Death

Toby Keith, who died Feb. 5, is one of three inductees named Monday as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with fellow country star John Anderson and legendary country-rock guitarist James Burton.

Keith will be inducted posthumously, of course, but he was not elected posthumously. Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern noted that there is actually a rule against voting in anyone in the year after their death. But that doesn’t apply in this instance, since voting wrapped up Feb. 2.

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On Feb. 6, Trahern noted, fans and friends woke up to the news that Keith had died from stomach cancer. “It was bitterrsweet that our team received word from Deloitte just a few hours later that he had been elected” into the hall, she said. “My heart sank that Tuesday afternoon that we had missed a chance to inform Toby while he was still with us.” But, she said, she felt confident that he was looking down from above and finding out that he was “as good as he once was,” to borrow a lyrical phrase.

“Many people tried to portray him as one-dimensional, and he wasn’t,” said Kix Brooks, who with his partner Ronnie Dunn hosted the announcements at the Hall of Fame Monday morning. “We know, we’ve been on the road with him. … Keith didn’t write about politics as much as much as he did about communities.” Brooks cited his 11 USO tours and 200 shows performed for members of the armed forces.

Keith’s previous honors include being named into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015, the all-genre Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021 and being named as a BMI Icon at the PRO’s 2022 ceremony in Nashville.

While Keith was named as the annual modern-day inductee, Anderson was elected in the veterans-era category, which includes artists that came to national prominence before 1979.

“I’m trying to get a grasp ot the reality of this happening to me,” Anderson said at the press conference. “I want to thank all the fans who supported us through the last nearly 50 years… They ask just what this means and …this is an institution that preserves greatness. I know it is because I have many dear friends that are in the Hall of Fame, people like Ernest Tubb, Minnie Pearl, Loretta Lynn, Porter (Wagoner), Little Jimmy Dickens and of course George (Jones) and Merle (Haggard), who I was fortunate to run with and do shows. … That I get the chance to be amongst this kind of greatness, words can’t explain.”

Burton’s words at the announcements press conference were briefer, perhaps not surprisingly from a man who has always let his fingers do the talking. “What can I say?” he wondered aloud. “It’s truly an honor. I’m gonna be here for a long time,” he added.

Burton was elected in the recording and/or touring musician category, one that rotates in every few years and alternates with honors for songwriters and industry figures.

As Brooks & Dunn noted in their introduction, Burton’s “chicken picking” playing style was “one of the most familiar sounds in American popular music” from his accompaniment on records by country stars including Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr. and Glen Campbell as well as pop and rock artists like the Everly Brothers, the Monkees and Buffalo Springfield.

It was as the leader of Elvis Presley’s TCB Band from 1969 through the singer’s death that Burton found his greatest renown.

Burton was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007.

Noted Brooks, “Being from Shreveport, this guy was a big hometown hero,” and he added that Burton had helped put instruments in the hands of thousands of young people through his dedication to arts education.

A medallion ceremony honoring the three will take place in October at the CMA Theater.

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