‘Never Apologize for Being Patriotic’: Legendary Country Singer Toby Keith Urges Daughter Before Dying

‘Never Apologize for Being Patriotic’: Legendary Country Singer Toby Keith Urges Daughter Before Dying
(Front) The late country singer Toby Keith and his daughter, Krystal Keith, perform together onstage; (Background) Toby Keith (Second From Right) performs for President-elect Donald Trump and his family during a welcome celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in January 2017; (Inset) Toby Keith performs for U.S. troops at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005. (Illustration by The Epoch Times, Getty Images)
Michael Wing
5/21/2024
Updated:
5/22/2024
0:00

If the country music career of Toby Keith had any meaning, it is this: You can follow your heart in this business and love America and still come out on top.

Mr. Keith—who got his first guitar at age 8, led a platinum-studded career as a legendary singer for decades, and was stirred to act by the September 11 attacks, channeling his talent—passed away in February. He was 62.

His markedly patriotic legacy was highlighted by his daughter, Krystal Keith, in a speech.

“He was a larger-than-life legend, he was an icon, he did things his own way, his songs inspired nearly everyone in country music and beyond,” said Ms. Keith, speaking at the commencement ceremony at the University of Oklahoma on May 12. She received an honorary degree on Mr. Keith’s behalf.

The singer died peacefully beside family, on Feb. 5, after a two-year-long battle with stomach cancer. Standing at the podium, his daughter enumerated the values he instilled.

“He always said, ‘Never apologize for being patriotic,’ and practiced what he preached through his work with the USO [United Service Organizations],” she said, denoting Mr. Keith’s dedication to performing for members of the U.S. military.

“He was going into the most dangerous zones,“ she said, ”where guys that never got those entertainers to come to them, were housed and were sitting, and he would go and boost their morale.”

(Left) Toby Keith rehearses for the 2002 Academy of Country Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles in 2002. (Kevin Winter/ImageDirect); (Right) Toby Keith (Center) plays during a United Service Organizations (USO) performance at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005. (Mike Theiler/USO via Getty Images)
(Left) Toby Keith rehearses for the 2002 Academy of Country Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles in 2002. (Kevin Winter/ImageDirect); (Right) Toby Keith (Center) plays during a United Service Organizations (USO) performance at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005. (Mike Theiler/USO via Getty Images)

The singer, who handed down his work ethic to Ms. Keith, began his early career in the Oklahoma oil industry and sang country music on the side until the state’s oil crash in 1982 forced him to seek a living elsewhere. When a short-lived stint playing pro football ended, he took his music to the next level with his band.

His daughter hopes a new generation will be inspired by his example.

“Work hard and be the captain of your own ship,” she said during the ceremony. “Believe in yourself and live your dream. He would want me to tell you to never give up on yourself. As you start your next journey in life, know that you have strong roots here at the University of Oklahoma.

“I actually made a joke about how many hours I spent here getting my bachelor’s degree, and he joked that he didn’t have to work that hard to get his. But we all know he earned it and spent many more hours dedicating his life to earning it this way. He loved his family (he loved all of us), God, our country, and Sooner Nation.

“Throughout his life and career, he made sure to work hard to have the best, to be the best. He often said, ‘They may write better than me, they may sing better than me, and they may look better than me, but they will never outwork me.’

Toby Keith and his daughter, Krystal Keith, perform on stage at the 38th Annual CMA Awards at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville in 2004. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Toby Keith and his daughter, Krystal Keith, perform on stage at the 38th Annual CMA Awards at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville in 2004. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

“And that made all the difference.”

Over the span of three decades, Mr. Keith led a prolific career. Since the release of his chart-topping debut single “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” in 1993, he released 19 studio albums, sold 40 million albums, and landed 20 number-one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.

Around the turn of the millennium, the artist had made the top country song of 2000 with his legendary single “How Do You Like Me Now?!”

Among his longest-running top-of-the-chart hits, his duet with Willie Nelson “Beer for My Horses” (2003) and “As Good as I Once Was” (2005) stand out foremost.

Country singer Toby Keith (Second From Right) performs for President-elect Donald Trump and his family during a welcome celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in January 2017. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
Country singer Toby Keith (Second From Right) performs for President-elect Donald Trump and his family during a welcome celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in January 2017. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
Toby Keith taught his daughter, Krystal Keith, to "never apologize for being patriotic." (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Toby Keith taught his daughter, Krystal Keith, to "never apologize for being patriotic." (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Not only did he make frequent trips to war zones to support servicemen, but several of the singer’s songs bespeak of his patriotism. “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)” was written in 20 minutes after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, which mentions his late father, a U.S. Army veteran. His album name “Shock‘n Y’all” is a pun on the military term “shock and awe.” Included on the disk are the tracks “American Soldier” and “The Taliban Song.”

His music was acknowledged upon his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.

In 2021, former President Donald Trump awarded Mr. Keith alongside musician Ricky Skaggs the National Medal of Arts.

In March 2024, Mr. Keith’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame was announced after selection just days before his death.

A patriot of his homeland, Mr. Keith was also “an outlier” who loved freedom and was “unapologetically Oklahoma,” his daughter said.

“He was very individualistic and carved his own path, and he did it his own way, from pillar to post,” she said in her speech. “He never knew it, but he was a mentor to me, just watching him from afar.”

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