ACM Awards: Jason Aldean delivers moving tribute to Toby Keith, with Blake Shelton intro

With the Oklahoma music icon's family in attendance, Jason Aldean delivered a heartfelt acoustic tribute to the late Toby Keith Thursday night during the Academy of Country Music Awards.

A three-time ACM Entertainer of the Year winner and the reigning ACM Artist of the Decade, Aldean crooned and strummed a special rendition of Keith's breakout hit “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” during the 59th ACM Awards. He was accompanied only by a string quartet and a pair of backup guitarists.

"We love you Toby," Aldean said at the end of the song.

Jason Aldean performs during the Toby Keith tribute at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Jason Aldean performs during the Toby Keith tribute at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Toby Keith's family calls ACM Awards performance 'the perfect tribute'

Born Toby Keith Covel, the Oklahoma native died Feb. 5 at the age of 62 after a multi-year battle with stomach cancer.

During Aldean's affecting salute, the massive stage at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, was solemnly darkened, artfully dotted with blue lights and flanked by giant screens that showed photos of Keith and his family.

The family of Toby Keith - from left, his daughter, Shelley Covel Rowland; his wife, Tricia Covel;, his daughter, Krystal Keith; his son, Stelen Covel; and his daughter-in-law Haley Covel - walk the carpet at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
The family of Toby Keith - from left, his daughter, Shelley Covel Rowland; his wife, Tricia Covel;, his daughter, Krystal Keith; his son, Stelen Covel; and his daughter-in-law Haley Covel - walk the carpet at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Keith's widow, Tricia, and his three children — his daughters, Shelley Covel Rowland and Krystal Keith, and his son, Stelen Covel, plus Stelen's wife, Haley — were in the audience for the show, which streamed live exclusively on Prime Video.

Tricia could be seen swiping away tears during the performance, and the family released a statement on social media following the show thanking Aldean for the "wonderfully touching performance."

"It was the perfect tribute to Toby Keith," the family said in the social media message.

Jason Aldean performs during the Toby Keith tribute at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Jason Aldean performs during the Toby Keith tribute at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Blake Shelton pays emotional homage to 'fellow Okie' Toby Keith

Last October, Keith made a surprise appearance at Aldean's Oklahoma City concert at Paycom Center, where he performed "Should've Been a Cowboy," with Aldean backing him on vocals and guitar and the whole crowd wailing along.

A few weeks prior, the Songwriters Hall of Famer received the inaugural Country Icon award, presented by fellow Oklahoman Blake Shelton, during the People’s Choice Country Awards. Keith performed his poignant ode "Don't Let the Old Man In" there for what became his last televised performance.

Shelton also introduced the ACM Awards' memorial tribute to Keith, calling him "a great friend to me, and he was a real straight shooter who was larger than life."

"As a friend, a fan and a fellow Okie. I feel heartbroken and yet honored to be standing here tonight to remember a man who became one of the biggest country music stars of all time," Shelton said ahead of Aldean's performance.

"Toby was a big star in every way. He sold more than 44 million albums, with 33 No. 1 hits and 14 ACM Awards, including Entertainer of the Year. But in the end, the mark that Toby left was much more than just that. Toby was a loving husband to his beautiful wife, Tricia. He was a proud father to their three kids, and we're so honored and moved to have Tricia and the kids all here with us tonight."

ACM Awards host Reba McEntire says 'Toby, we'll never forget you'

Hosting the ACM Awards for the 17th time, fellow Oklahoma country music superstar Reba McEntire praised Aldean's fervent tribute to Keith and seemed visibly moved at the end of his performance.

"Way to go, Jason. That was beautiful. Very nice. Toby, we'll never forget you, and I kind of feel like you're here with us tonight anyway," Reba said in a voice thick with emotion.

During his storied country music career, Keith was named ACM Entertainer of the Year twice, in 2002 and 2003. The Norman resident also earned multiple wins for ACM Top Male Vocalist and ACM Album of the Year.

Ahead of presenting this year's Male Vocalist of the Year prize to Chris Stapleton, presenters Jordan Davis and Carin León noted that Keith won the award 20 years ago this year.

"Here's to Toby and all the country music legends who have ever taken home this award," Davis said.

The full rebroadcast of the 59th ACM Awards should be available to watch soon on Prime Video. The awards show will be available to stream starting at 7 p.m. Friday, May 17 on the Amazon Music App and for free on Amazon Freevee.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Jason Aldean's Toby Keith tribute on ACM Awards earns praise from Reba

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