The Country Music Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2022 on Tuesday (May 17). Keith Whitley and Jerry Lee Lewis lead the group, becoming the 147-149th esteemed members of the establishment.
Music executive Joe Galante (Sony Music Nashville) was the third member announced by hosts Brooks & Dunn. The announcement comes 16 days after the Judds and Ray Charles were inducted as the Class of 2021, and months after Hank Williams Jr. and Marty Stuart were inducted as members of the Class of 2020. Both of these ceremonies were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Class of 2022 represents a return to the traditional timeline of announcing and inducting members.
For Whitley (first signed to a record deal by Galante), the induction comes after years of discussion and support from artists like Garth Brooks and Jason Aldean. Whitley has five No. 1 hits and 10 Top 10 hits, including “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.” His influence reaches past his discography, however, as his death at age 34 in 1989 came after just two albums (plus one on the way) and only a handful of radio singles.
Singer Lorrie Morgan, who was married to Whitley when he died, accepted the honor on his behalf on Tuesday. During her remarks she thanked those who supported his career, recognized their two children and recalled the first time she heard and met the singer.
“Keith never knew how good he was,” she remarked. “He would be absolutely blown away if he were here today. He would be saying that surely they got it wrong.”
Lewis’ induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame comes with a bit more controversy. His bonafides are four No. 1 and 23 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, but beyond that he’s recognized as one of the most innovative and influential artists of all time. George Strait and Toby Keith are two country acts who’ve been moved by his music (in 2017, Keith gave him a hardy endorsement). He’s a Grammy winner, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and only living member of the million dollar quartet which included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” are his two most recognizable hits.
“I’m just overwhelmed that they asked me to be here today,” Lewis said before a short speech that shared his love and enthusiasm for the induction and those who made it possible.
A series of scandals, questionable decisions and a hard partying lifestyle plagued his career, however. In 1958 it was revealed Lewis had married his 13-year-old first cousin, once removed. In 1982, his fourth wife Jaren Pate drowned just weeks before their divorce was to be finalized. One year later, his fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, died after just 77 days of marriage. That relationship was famously investigated by Rolling Stone journalist Richard Ben Cramer in a story titled, “The Strange and Mysterious Death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis.”
Galante became the head of RCA Nashville at age 32 in 1982. During his lengthy career, he played key roles in developing the careers of artists like Whitley, Brooks & Dunn, Waylon Jennings, Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, the Judds and more.
Here’s All Country Music Hall of Fame Members: