Country Music Hall of Fame Announces Class of 2022: Keith Whitley, Jerry Lee Lewis & Joe Galante

by Jim Casey

The Country Music Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2022 on May 17: Keith Whitley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Joe Galante.

Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn hosted the announcement ceremony inside the Hall of Fame’s rotunda. The late Keith Whitley represents the Modern Era category, while Jerry Lee Lewis represents the Veteran Era category. Joe Galante represents the Non-Performer category.

The Country Music Association elects one new member/act into the Country Music Hall of Fame in each of its three categories: Modern Era, Veteran Era, and Songwriter/Musician/Non-Performer (this category rotates, and this year a non-performer was elected). Modern Era candidates are eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence,” while Veteran Era candidates are eligible after 40 years.

This year’s honorees will be formally inducted during a ceremony later this year. They represent the 147th, 148th, and 149th inductees.

Excerpts from the CMA’s Hall of Fame announcement are featured below.

Keith Whitley: Modern Era

Keith Whitley made his radio debut at age 8, appearing on singer Buddy Starcher’s show on WCHS-AM in Charleston, WV. In his teens, he formed a bluegrass band, the East Kentucky Mountain Boys, with his brother Dwight. 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. 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, 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. 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. “Miami, My Amy” reached the Top 20. Three Top 10 singles followed: “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 No. 1s.

Jerry Lee Lewis: Veteran Era

When 21-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis arrived at Memphis’ Sun Records, he was introduced to owner Sam Phillips as a man who could play the piano the way Chet Atkins played guitar. That description may have piqued Phillips’ curiosity. But, truth was, Lewis didn’t sound a thing like Atkins. And he played the piano like nothing anybody had ever heard before. 

Lewis’ ferocious, key-pounding style derived from a combustible mix of cultural sources—the Assembly of God holiness church of Ferriday, LA; Haney’s Big House, a chitlin’ circuit nightclub on the other side of town where Lewis witnessed a young B.B. King and all manner of other blues and R&B acts; the Jimmie Rodgers records embedded deep within his formative memories; the Al Jolson 78s played before Gene Autry matinees at the local movie house; and Hank Williams’ mournful wail carried across the air via The Louisiana Hayride. Those things all came together in Lewis. And came out through his fingers with the speed of lightning and the force of thunder. 

In all, he placed 28 Top 10 Billboard Country singles across four decades. It is 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. 

Joe Galante: Hall of Fame Non-Performer

When then RCA Records transferred Joe Galante from New York to its Nashville office in 1974, he never imagined he’d still be in Music City 49 years later. Nashville certainly had no clue how the 24-year-old “New Yorker” would transform the country music industry. He became the longest-tenured major-label head in its history. During his 39 years with what is now known as Sony Music Nashville, Galante displayed marketing acumen, strategic sense and tenacious competitiveness that motivated other labels and raised the bar for the industry at large. 

He shepherded the multi-Platinum ascendance of Alabama using a pop marketing model. He signed a wide roster of talent including Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride, Lorrie Morgan, K.T. Oslin, Carrie Underwood, Keith Whitley, Chris Young and others.