Last summer singer-songwriter Toby Keith revealed a deeply personal battle with stomach cancer, with which he was diagnosed in fall 2021. However, his indomitable spirit shone through, and he persevered, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation while maintaining a desire to return to entertaining.

Recently, hundreds gathered to witness his pop-up concerts at Hollywood Corners in Norman, Oklahoma, where he resides. The 1920s roadhouse, which Keith transformed into a deli, bar and music venue, played host to Keith and his Easy Money Band, entertaining the crowd for two and a half hours each night.

Despite the health challenges, Keith remains hopeful and determined, sharing that his tumor has already shrunk by one-third, and he plans to tour again by the end of the year if he has enough energy for a full show.

Born on July 8, 1961, in Clinton, Oklahoma, as Toby Keith Covel, passion for entertaining was ignited in his grandmother’s supper club as he witnessed many talented musicians perform. His early life was marked by a blend of interests, including working in the oil industry and playing defense in the USFL football league. However, it was music that ultimately won his heart.

In the early ’90s, Keith signed with Mercury Records, and his self-titled debut album, released in 1993, quickly achieved platinum status. The albums that followed, such as “Boomtown” (1994) and “Blue Moon” (1996), were equally well-received, featuring chart-toppers like “Who’s That Man” and “Me Too.” In 1997, Keith collaborated with Sting on the Grammy-nominated song “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying.”

A turning point in Keith’s life and career occurred in 2001 when tragedy struck with the loss of his father, H.K. Covel, in a traffic accident. This deeply personal event, coupled with the profound impact of the September 11 attacks, led him to create the powerful and controversial anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” The song struck a chord, particularly among military personnel, and brought Keith accolades, including being named Entertainer of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 2002 and 2003.

Keith continued to make waves with his music, releasing albums like “Shock’n Y’All” (2003) and “Honkytonk University” (2005). His singles “American Soldier” and “As Good As I Once Was” soared to the top of the country music charts, cementing his status as a country music superstar.

Keith has released 19 studio albums, two Christmas albums and five compilation albums, totaling worldwide sales of more than 40 million albums. Alongside his musical achievements, Keith received recognition from his home state as he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2005.

The entertainer established The Toby Keith Foundation in 2006 to provide no-cost housing for children with cancer. In 2014, the foundation opened OK Kids Korral, a cost-free, convenient and comfortable home for pediatric cancer patients receiving treatment at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, Stephenson Cancer Center and other Oklahoma facilities.

Through his Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic, Keith has raised in excess of $15 million for the OK Kids Korral over the past two decades. This year’s event raised more than $1.8 million for the cause, with the live auction alone bringing in $1 million of that total.

In 2007 Keith’s family was awarded $2.8 million in a wrongful death lawsuit in which a jury concluded that the accident that caused his father’s death could have been avoided if the owners of a charter-like bus had replaced their brakes after inspectors had told them that they “urgently” need to be fixed.

Despite challenges and life-threatening encounters, like facing mortar fire during a U.S.O. Tour in the Persian Gulf in 2008, Keith remained resilient, returning to the stage and continuing to share his music with the world. As a recipient of the Spirit of the USO Award in 2014, the beloved artist has demonstrated his dedication to the troops with 11 USO tours, spanning 18 countries and more than 280 events to date.

Keith released “American Ride” in 2009 and “Bullets in the Gun” in 2010, but it was 2011 that brought the singer even more critical acclaim. His 2011 album “Clancy’s Tavern” featured the hits “Made in America” and “Red Solo Cup,” the latter written by The Warren Brothers, along with Brett and Jim Beavers—the only song not written by Keith. After Keith heard the viral song on YouTube, he collaborated with the ensemble to record a version and include it on his album.

Continuing his hot streak, Keith released another album the following year, “Hope on the Rocks.” While the album didn’t fare as well as his previous works, the title track still peaked at 29 on the Billboard country music charts. In 2013, he released his next album, “Drinks After Work,” which featured the popular single “Shut Up and Hold On” and debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart.

In 2014, Keith released the single “Drunk Americans” from the album “35 MPH Town,” which was released in 2015, the same year he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He received the National Medal of Arts award in 2021 and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame that year.

Keith will receive the country icon award at the inaugural People’s Choice Country Awards on Sept. 28, 2023, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and Peacock from the Grand Ole Opry House.


This copyrighted story by Claudia Johnson was originally published in Country Reunion Magazine and Country Reunion News.