Feb 6, 2024 - News

Remembering country star Toby Keith, who died at 62

Toby Keith performs on stage.

Toby Keith in 2021. Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Toby Keith, whose hard-nosed approach to country music made him one of the genre's stars for decades, died Monday following a battle with stomach cancer. He was 62.

  • Keith ascended to country music's pinnacle on the strength of hits like "Should've Been a Cowboy," "Beer For My Horses" and "Red Solo Cup."

The big picture: He was a prolific songwriter. At the height of his powers, he penned a No. 1 song every year for 20 consecutive years.

  • Songs with an unapologetic, tough-guy tone were his calling card. He became the template for future generations of macho country solo artists.

In one song that came to embody his image, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," Keith vented his rage over the 9/11 attacks.

  • It became a crossover hit and attracted both praise and criticism for its hard-charging lyrics.

Fellow artists remembered Keith's unmistakable style and compassion in tributes on social media.

  • "You were the toughest man I ever met," Blake Shelton said on X. "Thank you brother for being a friend, a hero and an inspiration. There will never be another Toby Keith."
  • "Toby Keith was a true trail blazer," the country band Old Dominion wrote. "Authentic and heartfelt but always with a wink 'til the end. He was larger than life in so many ways and his music will live on forever! Raising our red solos tonight—you will be missed by so many."

Of note: Keith helped Music Row executive Scott Borchetta launch the Big Machine record label, which signed Taylor Swift to her first deal.

Zoom out: Keith's accolades include a National Medal of Arts in 2021, induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Merle Haggard Spirit Award from the Academy of Country Music.

  • Last September, Keith was honored with the Country Icon Award during the People's Choice Country Awards. At the awards show, Keith sang "Don't Let the Old Man In" for his final televised performance.

Keith was at the forefront of a movement melding outspoken pro-military, conservative views with country music. The likes of John Rich and Jason Aldean followed in his footsteps.

Flashback: Keith's approach could be polarizing. Fans lauded him for his fierce lyrics in "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" while critics said it struck an overly aggressive tone.

  • Keith feuded with the band now known as The Chicks following member Natalie Maines' criticism of the song and her onstage remarks bashing former President George W. Bush over the Iraq war in 2003.
  • Keith briefly displayed a photo of The Chicks' Natalie Maines next to a photo of Saddam Hussein during shows at that time.

Former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy wrote on X that Keith "was pro-America without apology."

Between the lines: Keith, who performed for both former President Trump and former President Obama, said he considered himself a conservative Democrat before switching to a registered independent.

What they're saying: "He had a swagger that was a little different than most because he knew who he was," singer-songwriter Darryl Worley said on X.

"He relished being an outsider and doing things his way. Proudly patriotic, he didn't mind if his clear-cut convictions ruffled your feathers," Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young said of Keith.

  • "For three decades, he reflected the defiant strength of the country music audience. His memory will continue to stand tall."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Nashville.

More Nashville stories