Keith Whitley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Galante Get Call to the Country Music Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame Classes don't often come with more firepower than 2022's Country Music Hall of Fame class does with three pillars and influential artists now set to be enshrined later this year.

The three new inductees are all icons with Keith Whitley, long being someone fans wanted enshrined, while Jerry Lee Lewis, who’s already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Joe Galente ensure this year’s class is a power-packed trio.

Announced this morning at the renowned Hall of Fame Rotunda at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum by Hall of Fame members Brooks & Dunn, this year’s trio of members showcases what makes this a special and unique Hall of Fame.

“This year’s inductees are trailblazers who each paved their own unique path within Country Music,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “Jerry Lee, Keith and Joe each found their musical callings early in life and displayed a strong-minded and fierce passion for music making. In very different ways, they all have left a lasting impact on the industry and generations of fans alike. I am thrilled to welcome this deserving class into the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

“When I heard the news I was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was the first time in my entire career I was speechless," says Galante. "I’m humbled, beyond honored and honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.”

"To be recognized by Country Music with their highest honor is a humbling experience,” says Lewis. “The little boy from Ferriday, LA listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams never thought he'd be in a Hall amongst them. I am appreciative of all those who have recognized that Jerry Lee Lewis music is Country Music and to our almighty God for his never-ending redeeming grace."

“In my heart, this feels like an absolutely appropriate honor, but at the same time, I know that Keith would be painfully humbled, and even shy about accepting an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame,” says Grand Ole Opry star, Lorrie Morgan, who was married to Whitley until his untimely passing. “Music was all about emotion to Keith. It was personal. There were so many great artists he admired, even worshipped. To stand in their company in the Hall of Fame would’ve been overwhelmingly emotional for him. I am thrilled to see him honored this way, and for what it means to my children, Morgan and Jesse Keith; to Keith’s grandchildren; the Whitley family; and to the many, many fans who continue to point to Keith as one of the all-time greats.”

“Our new inductees come from three very different places, but in October they will be enshrined in the very same place,” says Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Chief Executive Officer. “Jerry Lee Lewis is a God-fearing rabble-rouser from a Mississippi River town, way down South. Keith Whitley was a Lefty Frizzell-loving Country boy from rural Kentucky. And Joe Galante is a game-changing executive from the urban northeast. They all filled our worlds with music. They are all deserving of our respect and adulation, and their elections into the Country Music Hall of Fame ensure that respect and adulation will endure through the ages.”

Joe Galente, the iconic record label executive who launched the careers of acts like Kenny Chesney and steered the careers of superstars Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton to heights previously unknown. Galante was 32 years old when he was assigned as President of the RCA Records Label and after learning the genre from Jerry Bradley and Chet Atkins, Galente became known as “the man with the golden ears” and steered RCA Nashville to the status as #1 label in the genre for eleven straight years and he even signed fellow inductee Keith Whitley (and Whitley’s wife Lorrie Morgan). Other stars signed by Galente include Clint Black, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride, K.T Olin, Chris Young, Carrie Underwood and many, many others.

In 1990, Galante moved to RCA’s NY offices to run the entire company and while there, he signed superstars like Wu-Tang Clan, SWV and the Dave Matthews Band. Galette returned to Nashville in 1994 as Chairman of RCA which had been purchased by BMG and included both BNA Records and RCA. In 2000, Arista Nashville was also merged into the label and there he launched Brad Paisley along with the continued success of artists like Diamond Rio, Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson’s careers. Later, in 2004, BMG Nashville became the first Nashville-based label group of the SoundScan era to score three #1 charting albums on the Billboard 200 in a single calendar year. Two years later, BMG Nashville became SonyBMG Nashville with the addition of the Columbia Nashville label. Galante retired from the label in 2010, a year after it became Sony Music Nashville. He remains active as a consultant to companies and mentor to young music professionals and is a founding member of Leadership Music, now in it’s 33rd year.

Whitley’s star was a bright comet and his time as a star is nearly 6 months shorter than Hank Williams’ own star-crossed career. As influential now in 2022 as he was when he passed away in 1989 at the age of 34, Whitley’s career spanned four years, seven months and 10 days from his first chart appearance to his untimely death. He joins Hall of Fame members like Lefty Frizzle, Jim Reeves, Ira Louvin, Patsy Cline, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams as members whose flame burned bright but quickly. Growing up in the Bluegrass world, Whitley formed a bluegrass band, the East Kentucky Mountain Boys, with his brother Dwight, performing on WGOH-AM in Grayson, KY and once month on a UHF station out of Hazard, KY.

It was during this time that he met Ricky Skaggs (also now in the Country Music Hall of Fame) and the two teens bonded over their shared interest in Bluegrass and the Stanley Brothers and soon were performing the band’s songs together and, months later, Ralph Stanley hired them as members of his Cinch Mountain Boys. They recorded several albums with Stanley and Whitley and Skaggs recorded two early 1970s albums — Tribute to the Stanley Brothers and 2nd Generation Bluegrass. After leaving Stanley’s band, Whitley joined J.D. Crowe and the New South from 1978 to 1982.

Having been visiting Nashville since his teens and having been told by Mac Wiseman that his real future was in country music, Whitley moved to Nashville after leaving Crowe’s band. He met Lorrie Morgan in a studio at Acuff-Rose Music, where she worked as a receptionist and Whitley was recording the demo of “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” a song which would become a #1 hit for George Strait. The couple married in November 1986. By this time, Whitley was signed to RCA Records by then VP of Operations Joe Galente. After releasing — to little success — an EP called A Hard Act To Follow, Whitley scored his first Top 20 hit with “Miami, My Amy,” from debut full-length album L.A. to Miami. Three Top 10 hits, “Ten Feet Away, “Homecoming ’63” and “Hard Livin’” followed suit.

It was his follow-up album, 1988’s Don’t Close Your Eyes, where Whitley’s artistic and commercial breakthrough took place. Three tracks were produced by Garth Fundis, the title track, “When You Say Nothing At All” and “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” and they all found a perfect blend of the bluegrass roots and Honky Tonk tradition found in Whitley’s voice, giving him his first chart-topping #1 hits. All three songs still resonate, more than 30 years later.

One month after “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” hit the top of the charts, Whitley passed away in his home. Unlike so many of his fellow Country Music Hall of Fame members, Whitley never performed at the CMA Awards. He never became a member of the Grand Ole Opry (though he was set to be invited a few weeks after his death), his first Gold record, for Don’t Close Your Eyes, came two months after his death and his Grammy nominations and CMA Awards came posthumously. A completed third album, I Wonder Do You Think of Me came out in August 1989 and featured two more #1 hits in the title track and “It Ain’t Nothin’.”

Jerry Lee Lewis was a firebrand, an uncontrollable ball of energy who played the Piano in ways that few had played it before him. A showman to his core, Lewis’ style came from a combustable blend of cultural sources including The Assembly of God holiness church in 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 other blues and R&B acts, Jimmie Rodgers early country records from his youth, Al Jolson’s jazz played before Gene Autry matinees at the local movie home and Hank Williams’ mournful wail. All of these things came together in Lewis and there was nothing like him before or since (though many have tried).

He cut “Crazy Arms” for Sun Records while Ray Rice’s hit was still, well, a hit. his first hit, though, was a cover of Big Maybelle’s “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On” and spent weeks atop both Country and R&B best-sellers charts while peaking at #3 on Billboard’s Top 100 Singles chart. His follow-up, “Great Balls of Fire” became his iconic hit and launched Lewis into superstardom, even as controversy derailed his career. When he topped the charts in 1969 with “To Make Love Sweeter For You” in 1969, it was the same year that Johnny Cash, Sonny James and Conway Twitty, all early Rock N Roll Pioneers, hit the top of the Country charts as well.

Lewis continued to have hits well into the 1970s and early 1980s. 28 Top 10 Billboard Country singles are in his ledger, a greater number of hits than the pop charts, where only six songs made the Top 40. Lewis is also the 4th artist from the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class to make it into the Country Music Hall of Fame, (Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Ray Charles).