Country Music Hall to add Galante, Lewis, Whitley
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Country Music Hall to add Galante, Lewis, Whitley

Tuesday, May 17, 2022 – The Country Music Hall of Fame will add label executive Joe Galante and musicians Jerry Lee Lewis and Keith Whitley.

Galante will be inducted in the "Non-Performer" category, which is awarded every third year in rotation with "Recording and/or Touring Musician" and "Songwriter" categories. Lewis will be inducted in the "Veterans Era Artist" category, and Whitley will be inducted in the "Modern Era Artist" category.

"This year's inductees are trailblazers who each paved their own unique path within country music," said Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. "Jerry Lee, Keith and Joe each found their musical callings early in life and displayed a strong-minded and fierce passion for music making. In very different ways, they all have left a lasting impact on the industry and generations of fans alike. I am thrilled to welcome this deserving class into the Country Music Hall of Fame."

"When I heard the news I was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was the first time in my entire career I was speechless," said Galante. "I'm humbled, beyond honored and honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this."

"To be recognized by country music with their highest honor is a humbling experience," said Lewis. "The little boy from Ferriday, La. listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams never thought he'd be in a Hall amongst them. I am appreciative of all those who have recognized that Jerry Lee Lewis music is country music and to our almighty God for his never-ending redeeming grace."

"In my heart, this feels like an absolutely appropriate honor, but at the same time, I know that Keith would be painfully humbled and even shy about accepting an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame," said singer Lorrie Morgan, who was married to Whitley until his untimely passing. "Music was all about emotion to Keith. It was personal. There were so many great artists he admired, even worshipped. To stand in their company in the Hall of Fame would've been overwhelmingly emotional for him. I am thrilled to see him honored this way, and for what it means to my children, Morgan and Jesse Keith; to Keith's grandchildren; the Whitley family; and to the many, many fans who continue to point to Keith as one of the all-time greats."

"Our new inductees come from three very different places, but in October they will be enshrined in the very same place," said Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Chief Executive Officer. "Jerry Lee Lewis is a God-fearing rabble-rouser from a Mississippi River town, way down South. Keith Whitley was a Lefty Frizzell-loving country boy from rural Kentucky. And Joe Galante is a game-changing executive from the urban northeast. They all filled our worlds with music. They are all deserving of our respect and adulation, and their elections into the Country Music Hall of Fame ensure that respect and adulation will endure through the ages."

A formal induction ceremony for Galante, Lewis and Whitley will take place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater this fall. Since 2007, the Museum's Medallion Ceremony, a reunion of the Hall of Fame membership, has served as the official rite of induction for new members.

Galante was a native New Yorker from an Italian family, who attended Catholic school. Galante joined RCA Records in New York as a budget analyst in 1971, shortly after graduating from Fordham. Three years later, he shifted to RCA's Nashville office.

Galante knew little about country except for the occasional crossover hit he'd hear on New York radio, but he learned the music and the business from RCA heads Jerry Bradley and Chet Atkins.

In less than a decade, Galante succeeded Bradley as the head of RCA's Nashville office. He helped steer RCA's late-1970s and early 1980s crossover successes with such artists as Waylon Jennings, Ronnie Milsap, Sylvia and Dolly Parton.

Galante was 32 when he took the helm at RCA Nashville, the youngest person to ever lead a major label's Nashville division. Under his leadership, RCA became Country's top label in 1982 and held that spot for 11 years.

Under his leadership, he helped the careers of Alabama, Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride, K.T. Oslin, Carrie Underwood, Keith Whitley, Chris Young and Morgan.

Galante returned to New York to be President of RCA Record Label - U.S., becoming the first Music Row label chief to run a major label's entire U.S. operation.

About three years later, Galante went back to Nashville in 1994 as chairman of RCA, which had been purchased by Bertelsmann and operated under the name BMG/Nashville, including both the RCA and BNA Records labels. In 2000, Arista Nashville came under the BMG/Nashville.

In 2006, Galante oversaw the evolution of BMG/Nashville into Sony BMG Nashville, with the addition of the former Sony Nashville and its Columbia Nashville imprint. Sony BMG Nashville became Sony Music Nashville in 2009. Galante exited Sony Music Nashville as chairman in 2010.

Lewis, the man behind "Great Balls of Fire," was known for his key-pounding piano style. The first record Sun Records released on Lewis was a cover of Ray Price's "Crazy Arms," cut. The first hit, though, came with a song originally recorded by R&B singer Big Maybelle but that Lewis had learned via a Natchez, Miss. DJ named Johnny Littlejohn. "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" simultaneously spent two weeks in 1957 atop Billboard's Country and R&B best-sellers charts, peaking at three on the Top 100. The following year saw follow-up "Great Balls of Fire" top the country chart for another two weeks.

Controversy derailed Lewis' early success, including bigamy and a marriage to a 13-year-old cousin, but not before Lewis hit the country top 10 three more times with "You Win Again," "Breathless" and "High School Confidential," each of which peaked higher on the Country charts than they did on the pop side.

In the 1960s, Lewis left Sun for Smash Records. Where Sun had emphasized Lewis' abilities as a boogie-woogie rock-and-roll piano man, Smash producers Jerry Kennedy and Eddie Kilroy decided to focus on his country side. They returned him to the radio with songs like "Another Place Another Time" and "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)."

Lewis soon had his first chart-topping country hit in 11 years — "To Make Love Sweeter for You" in 1969.

The country hits continued into the 1970s as Lewis moved to Smash's parent label, Mercury Records, and later the Nashville division Elektra Records. He reached the top with "There Must Be More to Love Than This," "Would You Take Another Chance on Me" and a cover of the Big Bopper's 1950s rock and roll classic, "Chantilly Lace." He hit the Top 5 with a pair of signature ballads, the 1977 waltz "Middle Aged Crazy" and the 1981 honky-tonker "Thirty Nine and Holding."

In all, he placed 28 Top 10 Billboard Country singles across four decades, a greater number of hits over a longer period of time than what appeared on the pop charts, where only a half-dozen sides made the Top 40.

Lewis has continued to record including recording a 2011 live album at Jack White's Third Man Records.

"Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" is now part of the National Recording Registry and along with "Great Balls of Fire," in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Lewis joins Sun Records compatriots Cash, "Cowboy" Jack Clement, Phillips and Elvis Presley in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is also the fourth member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's founding 1986 class of inductees to also gain membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Presley (1998), the Everly Brothers (2001) and Ray Charles (2021).

Whitley was only 34 when he died on May 9, 1989 of alcohol poisoning, but he had a big impact on country.

Whitley started singing when he was four, dressed in a black cowboy outfit and singing Marty Robbins' "Big Iron" and George Jones' "A Wandering Soul" for talent shows around his hometown of Sandy Hook, Ky.

Whitley made his radio debut at age eight, appearing on singer Buddy Starcher's show on WCHS-AM in Charleston, West Va. In his teens, he formed a bluegrass band, the East Kentucky Mountain Boys, with his brother Dwight, performing on WGOH-AM in Grayson, Ky, and once a month on a UFH television show out of Hazard, Ky.

During that time, he met future Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs, and the two teens bonded over their shared love of the Stanley Brothers. Whitley and Skaggs soon began performing the Stanleys' songs together, and within months, Ralph Stanley hired them as members of his Clinch Mountain Boys.

Whitley recorded several albums with Stanley, as well as two early 1970s albums with Skaggs — "Tribute to the Stanley Brothers" (Jalyn Records) and "2nd Generation Bluegrass" (Rebel Records). After leaving Stanley's band, he joined J.D. Crowe and the New South from 1978 to 1982.

Whitley had been coming to Nashville since his teens, having been told by Mac Wiseman that his real future was in country music, and he moved there after leaving Crowe's band. He met Lorrie Morgan in a studio at Acuff-Rose Music, where Morgan worked as a receptionist and Whitley was cutting the demo of "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind," which would become a chart-topper for George Strait. Whitley and Morgan married in November 1986.

By that time, Whitley had been signed to RCA Records by then-Vice President of Nashville Operations Galante. Whitley's debut EP, 1984's "A Hard Act to Follow," achieved little success, its two singles peaking outside Country's Top 40. A full-length album, "L.A. to Miami," fared better the following year, putting "Miami, My Amy" into the Top 20 followed by three Top 10 singles — "Ten Feet Away," "Homecoming '63" and "Hard Livin'."

Whitley found his artistic and commercial breakthrough with the next album, 1988's "Don't Close Your Eyes." Three tracks produced with Garth Fundis – the title track, "When You Say Nothing at All" and "I'm No Stranger to the Rain" — found a perfect blending of bluegrass and honky-tonk traditions into contemporary country, giving Whitley his first number ones.

For a new version of Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Around Mirrors," Whitley convinced writer Whitey Shafer to craft an additional verse. On the day Whitley recorded the song, he visited Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens near his house in Goodlettsville, Tenn., and read the new lyrics over Frizzell's grave.

One month after "I'm No Stranger to the Rain" hit the top of the charts, Whitley passed away in his home.

Whitley never performed at the CMA Awards. He never became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. (Unknown to him, his invitation had been set for three weeks after his death.) His first Gold-record certification, for "Don't Close Your Eyes," came two months after his death, and his Grammy Awards nominations and CMA Awards came posthumously. A completed third album, "I Wonder Do You Think of Me," came out in August 1989 and added two more singles, the title track and "It Ain't Nothin'," to his streak of number ones.

Whitley has influenced those who followed. Tim McGraw, inspired by his love of Whitley's music, moved to Nashville, arriving on the day Whitley died. A young Trisha Yearwood heard "Don't Close Your Eyes," leading her to ask Fundis to produce her records. Chris Young signed with RCA in part because it had been Whitley's label.  Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Blake Shelton and others have acknowledged Whitley's influence.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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