Country Throwback: Kris Kristofferson Performs ‘Why Me Lord’ with All-Star Cast of Country Icons

by Suzanne Halliburton

Kris Kristofferson, the eclectic singer/songwriter, officially retired Wednesday. So let’s drift back to a time three years ago when some of the biggest stars of country music lauded him by performing his best-loved songs.

The tribute concert was in March 2018. Organizers of the salute said they’d been bugging Kris Kristofferson for years to allow such a concert in his name.

His response always was “why me?”

So, we give you a choir of country all-stars singing “Why Me, Lord,” one of Kristofferson’s signature songs. Listen to the music, then catch us on the other side for the back story of the song and the Kris Kristofferson concert.

“Why Me Lord” Defines Kris Kristofferson

“Why Me Lord” is vintage Kris Kristofferson. In an interview with Ralph Emery, Kristofferson said he never considered himself a religious man. But his greatest solo success as a singer was a song inspired by a Sunday morning redemption in a Nashville church almost a half-century ago.

Kris Kristofferson talked of how a “profound” religious experience brought tears to his eyes and gave him a “forgiveness I didn’t know I needed.”

Kristofferson said he’d been at a fundraiser in Cookeville, Tenn., the night before as a favor to Dottie West. Then he found himself in Jimmy Snow’s church the next morning. Larry Gaitlin sang “Help Me.” Folks in the congregation knelt in prayer. Then Snow asked if anyone felt lost to raise their hands.

“The notion of raising my hand was out of the question,” Kris Kristofferson said. “All of the sudden, I felt my hand going up. I was hoping nobody else was looking.

“He said “if anybody is ready to accept Jesus, something like that, to come down to front of the church. I thought that would never happen. But I found myself getting up walking.”

Kristofferson wrote the song, pulling emotions from deep inside his soul. And he released it in 1973. “Why Me Lord” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country chart. And the song also spent 19 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 16.

What An Honor: So Many Stars Sang “Why Me Lord” At Their Own Concerts

So many country stars covered “Why Me Lord.” Elvis Presley sang it at his concerts. So did Willie Nelson. Johnny Cash added it after Kris Kristofferson sang it for him and his wife, June Carter Cash, in a Nashville hotel room. Others who sang it included George Jones, Conway Twitty and David Allan Coe. That’s a nice tribute.

The concert to honor Kristofferson also was an incredible honor. The show featured Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Lady A, Darius Rucker and Eric Church. They all sang the most beloved Kristofferson music.

At the end, the performers sang “Why Me Lord.” Did you spot all the singers? They included Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Jack Ingram, Alison Krauss, Jennifer Nettles, Roseanne Cash, Larry Gaitlin, Lee Ann Womack, Darius Rucker, Eric Church and Martina McBride.

Three years after the concert, it probably was no surprise that Kris Kristofferson announced his retirement. His son said his dad actually stepped back a year ago, but never made anything official.

Kristofferson boasted one of the most unique backgrounds in country music. He was a Rhodes Scholar. He served in the military, flying helicopters. Kristofferson turned down the chance to teach at West Point. He even dabbled in acting, starring opposite Barbra Streisand in “A Star Is Born.”

What a career.

Interested in more Outsider coverage of Kris Kristofferson? Check it out here, here and here.