Kentucky Strong: Bluegrass State Natives Continue Storied Influence Across Country Music

by Jim Casey

When you think of country music strongholds, what states come to mind? Texas (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Strait), Tennessee (Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins), or Oklahoma (Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill)? Maybe Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi? Well, don’t sleep on Kentucky. The Bluegrass State is—and has been—crushing it on the country music front. And Kentuckians are proud of their brood. Believe me, as a Tennessean, I hear about it from my neighbors to the north.

From the mountains and knobs to the hollers and coalfields, Kentucky has been churning out some of country music’s biggest stars for years. Country Music Hall of Fame members Merle Travis, Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones, Tom T. Hall, and Loretta Lynn all hail from Kentucky.

But, lately, several artists from Kentucky are finally getting their due. With the addition of Keith Whitley into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year, three of the last five CMHOF Modern Era inductees have Kentucky roots, including Ricky Skaggs and The Judds (Wynonna and the late Naomi Judd).

Last 5 CMHOF Modern Era Inductees

  • 2018: Ricky Skaggs (KY)
  • 2019: Brooks & Dunn (LA & TX)
  • 2020: Marty Stuart (MS)
  • 2021: The Judds (KY)
  • 2022: Keith Whitley (KY)

Kentucky Pride

When the Country Music Association announced Keith Whitley would be joining the Hall of Fame on May 17, I got a text from a former country music co-worker that simply read “KENTUCKY,” along with the raised hands emoji. Of course, like Whitley, she hails from Kentucky (and still lives there). Her text is basically a microcosm of the love Kentucky natives have for their homegrown country artists. There’s a lot of pride in Kentucky. And why not? The state also produces the best bourbon in the country world. Country music and bourbon? I’d hang my hat on that.

But that’s not all. The Kentucky pipeline is still flowing. For years, I’ve been stumping for Kentucky-born Dwight Yoakam to be added to the Hall of Fame. Maybe next year. Seriously, who else is more deserving than the honky-tonk man? The answer is no one. In addition, it’s about time to add Kentuckian Crystal Gayle to the CMHOF’s Veteran Era category.

And, Kentucky’s grip on country music is presently in good hands. Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Carly Pearce, and Tyler Childers have been leading the Kentucky-born charge for the last several years. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two of my favorite Kentucky-born singer-songwriters in Chris Knight and Darrell Scott.

Raised hands emoji, indeed, Kentucky. Keep up the great work. Tyler, take it away with some “Whitehouse Road.”