Toby Keith News: Late Singer Honored at 2024 ACM Awards

One of the biggest celebrations of country music is honoring one of the genre’s late stars. At the 2024 ACM Awards on May 16, Jason Aldean is performing a tribute to Toby Keith, who died in early February at age 62 after a years-long battle with stomach cancer. Aldean is covering “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” which Keith wrote and released on his self-titled debut album from 1993. The track became his first No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs list.

Throughout his three decades in the spotlight, Keith produced five albums that topped the Billboard 200, sold more than 25 million album copies, received seven Grammy Award nominations, and won 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, including two for Entertainer of the Year. His accomplishments earned Keith a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2024. The announcement arrived one day after his February 5 death with the induction ceremony slated for this October.

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Who Was Toby Keith?

Country singer Toby Keith was known for his songs about patriotism and partying. His career began in the early 1990s with a self-titled debut album that went platinum in 1994. In reaction to the events of 9/11, Keith wrote the song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which struck a chord with military personnel yet courted controversy. The two-time Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year frequently performed for U.S. military members. His multiplatinum, No. 1 albums include Unleashed and Shock’n Y’all from the early 2000s. Among his most popular songs are “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “Red Solo Cup,” and the Grammy-nominated duet “Beer For My Horses” with Willie Nelson. In 2022, Keith revealed he had stomach cancer. The decorated music star died at age 62 in February 2024 and will receive posthumous induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame this October.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Toby Keith Covel
BORN: July 8, 1961
DIED: February 5, 2024
BIRTHPLACE: Clinton, Oklahoma
SPOUSE: Tricia Lucus (1984-2024)
CHILDREN: Shelley, Krystal, and Stelen

Young Toby Keith

Singer, songwriter, and musician Toby Keith Covel was born on July 8, 1961, in Clinton, Oklahoma. Raised in Oklahoma City, Keith started playing music at a young age after being inspired by the musicians who worked in his grandmother’s supper club. After working for a while in the oil industry and playing defense in the USFL football league, he decided to pursue a career in music.

toby keith smiles at the camera while sitting in front of a background lit with a blue light, he wears a light colored jean jacket and a black cowboy hat

Toby Keith at age 32 in 1994Getty Images

In the early ’90s, Keith signed with Mercury Records, and by 1994, his self-titled debut album from the previous year was certified platinum. His follow-up records, Boomtown (1994) and Blue Moon (1996), were equally successful thanks to such popular hits as “Who’s That Man” and “Me Too.” In 1997, he teamed with Sting to record “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying,” which earned the duo a Grammy nomination. It was Keith’s first of seven throughout his career.

More success followed with 1999’s How Do You Like Me Now?!, which won Album of the Year at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards as Keith was named Top Male Vocalist. Next, Pull My Chain (2001) topped the country album charts in a career first for Keith. Rounding out 2001, the singer took home his first Country Music Association (CMA) Award as Male Vocalist of the Year.

“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”

Also in 2001, Keith’s father was killed in a traffic accident. The incident, combined with the events of September 11, prompted Keith to write the controversial “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which was hugely popular, particularly among military personnel. Released in May 2002, the song anchored his 2002 album Unleashed and is now a multi-platinum track.

Unleashed became Keith’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and included a hit duet with Willie Nelson, “Beer for My Horses.” The tune was nominated for two Grammys: Best Country Song and Best Country Collaboration With Vocals.

Keith was named Entertainer of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 2002 and 2003. He received an additional surge of media attention in 2003 when he engaged in a public clash with Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Chicks. The two ended up trading barbs, with Maines saying that “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” made “country music sound ignorant.” Keith took even more offense to Maine saying that she was “ashamed” of President George W. Bush at a concert. In his own concerts, he had pictures of Maines as Saddam Hussein projected on a video screen while he played his hit patriotic anthem.

Country Stardom

In November 2003, he released Shock’n Y’All, which reached the top of the country and pop album charts. The recording’s title is a play on the military expression, “shock and awe,” from the Iraq War, and his ode to the troops, “American Soldier,” was a big success. He also continued to cultivate his good ol’ boy image with such tracks as “I Love This Bar” and to show a sense of humor with “Weed With Willie,” which told the story about getting high with Willie Nelson. Shock’n Y’all earned Keith another ACM Award for Album of the Year.

His next effort, Honkytonk University (2005), featured a duet with country music icon Merle Haggard on “She Ain’t Hooked on Me No More.” The biggest single from the album was the ballad “As Good As I Once Was,” which helped Honkytonk University top the country charts for seven weeks. The video for the song also won the CMA Award for Music Video of the Year.

White Trash with Money was released in 2006 and featured such hits as the upbeat ode to a good time “Get Drunk and Be Somebody” and the wistful tune “A Little Too Late.” In addition to being a strong seller, the album received many positive reviews.

U.S.O. Tour and Movie

In 2007, Keith released Big Dog Daddy and A Classic Christmas, which were both big hits with the record-buying public. That same year, he was honored by his home state with an induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Keith and his family resolved a very difficult personal matter around this time, reaching a settlement in their lawsuit regarding the 2001 accident that killed his father.

ted nugent strums a guitar as he sits next to a standing toby keith who smiles with his hands in his pockets, behind them is a group of military personnel and two buildingsted nugent strums a guitar as he sits next to a standing toby keith who smiles with his hands in his pockets, behind them is a group of military personnel and two buildings

Ted Nugent and Toby Keith visit with U.S. Army troops in Kabul, Afghanistan, in June 2004 ahead of a U.S.O. performance.Getty Images

On the road a lot, Keith made some life-threatening stops along the way. In April 2008, he played 18 shows for U.S. troops in Persian Gulf as part of a U.S.O. Tour. Keith even had to pause during one of his performances because of mortar fire, but he returned to the stage after the attack stopped.

Later that year, he starred in the big screen comedy Beer for My Horses as a small-town deputy who arrests a Mexican drug lord, which leads to the kidnapping of his girlfriend by the drug lord’s brother. Keith co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced the movie, which featured appearances by Ted Nugent and Willie Nelson. The film was panned by some critics. “Even ticketbuyers with a hearty appetite for hayseed humor may be repulsed by the coarse… tomfoolery,” read a review in Variety.

More Hit Songs: “Red Solo Cup,” “Made In America,” and “Don’t Let the Old Man In”

Offscreen, Keith continued to thrive as a performer. He released That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy in 2008, which topped the country album charts and spawned two hits “God Love Her” and “Lost You Anyway.” A popular live act, Keith maintained a heavy tour schedule. His 2009 Toby Keith’s America’s Toughest Tour featured dates in the United States and in Europe.

Keith released American Ride in 2009 and Bullets in the Gun in 2010, but it was 2011 that brought the singer even more critical acclaim. His 2011 album Clancy’s Tavern featured the hits “Made in America” and “Red Solo Cup,” with the latter song being written by The Warren Brothers, along with Brett and Jim Beavers. After Keith heard the viral YouTube song, he worked with the ensemble to record a version and put it on his album.

toby keith stands on a stage with a few spotlights shining down, he holds a red solo cup above his head and has an acoustic guitar on a shoulder strap, he wears a straw colored cowboy hat, gray collared shirt and jeanstoby keith stands on a stage with a few spotlights shining down, he holds a red solo cup above his head and has an acoustic guitar on a shoulder strap, he wears a straw colored cowboy hat, gray collared shirt and jeans

Toby Keith’s cover of “Red Solo Cup” was one of his most popular songs.Getty Images

The country star continued his hot streak with another album the following year, Hope on the Rocks. The album didn’t fare as well as his previous, with the title track peaking at No. 29 on the Billboard country music charts. He released his next album, Drinks After Work (2013), not long after Hope on the Rocks. The album featured the popular single “Shut Up and Hold On” and debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart. In 2014, Keith released the single “Drunk Americans” from the album 35 MPH Town. The album was released in 2015, the same year Keith was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 2017, Keith signed on to perform at Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial on January 19. However, he said his appearance was for the country, not in support of a politician or political party. “I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military,” he said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “I performed at events for previous presidents [George W.] Bush and Obama and over 200 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan for the USO.”

Keith took inspiration from an unlikely source for his next song: film actor and director Clint Eastwood. The singer attended Eastwood’s golf tournament in 2018 when he learned about the soon-to-be-88-year-old’s upcoming movie The Mule and asked where he continues to get his energy. “I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in,” Eastwood told him, prompting Keith to write a song for the film.

“Don’t Let the Old Man In” proved to have a long shelf life, eventually peaking at No. 1 on the Country Digital Song Sales chart in October 2023 after Keith performed it at the People’s Choice Country Awards. He also teamed with BMLG Records to release the song to country radio around that time.

In January 2021, President Trump awarded Keith the National Medal of Arts. Nine months later, Keith released his final original album, Peso in My Pocket, which contained the popular singles “Happy Birthday America” and “Old School.” That December, the singer received the BMI Icon Award.

Keith’s final album, 100% Songwriter (2023) featured a collection of his early career hits like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This,” and “Who’s That Man.” A month after its release, streaming service Pandora recognized the country star with a Billionaire award in December 2023 after his songs had accrued 3 billion streams.

Wife Tricia Lucus and Kids

toby keith wearing a cowboy hat and posing for a photo with tricia lucus who wears all whitetoby keith wearing a cowboy hat and posing for a photo with tricia lucus who wears all white

Toby Keith and his wife, Tricia Lucus, in September 2023Getty Images

Keith married Tricia Lucus in 1984. The couple had two children together: a daughter named Krystal, born in 1985, and a son named Stelen, born in 1997. Keith also adopted Lucus’ daughter Shelley after their marriage.

Lucus and Keith met at a bar not long after he graduated high school in 1979. The singer had taken a job as an oil field worker, while also playing at local bars with his band called the Easy Money Band. “I was 19, and he was 20,” Lucus told People. “He was just one of those larger-than-life guys, full of confidence.” The couple dated for three years before tying the knot. In 2006, Lucus helped Keith start the Toby Keith Foundation to help children and their families battling cancer.

Krystal became a musician like her father, but has stepped back from the spotlight in recent years to focus on raising her two daughters. Stelen is a real estate investor.

Cancer Diagnosis and Death

In June 2022, Keith revealed that he had been undergoing treatment for stomach cancer since fall 2021. He underwent surgery and received chemotherapy and radiation treatments over the course of six months. Still, he was eager to begin performing again. “I am looking forward to spending this time with my family. But I will see the fans sooner than later. I can’t wait,” he said.

In a December 2022 interview for CMT Hot 20, the singer said he felt optimistic about his prognosis. By June 2023, Keith indicated the treatments were working, telling The Oklahoman his tumor had shrunk by one third and that his health was improving.

Keith attended the 2023 People’s Choice Country Awards in September, where he received the Country Music Icon Award. After his acceptance speech, Keith sang “Don’t Let the Old Man In” for his first live performance since his diagnosis. He also played at Park MGM in Las Vegas for three nights that December. However, his improved health didn’t last.

Keith died “peacefully” on February 5, 2024, according to an announcement on his website. The 62-year-old was surrounded by his family at the time of his death.

Weeks later on March 18, the Country Music Association announced that Keith had been voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and will be posthumously inducted as part of the 2024 class during a ceremony in October.

Net Worth

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Keith’s net worth was estimated at around $400 million in early February 2024.

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