In Remembrance of Toby Keith - 405 Magazine

In Remembrance of Toby Keith

Oklahomans bid farewell to a legend.

Toby Keith

Toby Keith.

Putting Moore, Oklahoma, on the map, singer-songwriter legend Toby Keith is a name practically everyone in the 405 knows. But the legendary singer-songwriter who passed away on Feb. 5 will be remembered in his home state not merely for the music that touched so many lives. It was also his dedication to philanthropy that made such an impression within our community. 

Toby Keith Covel was born in Clinton, Oklahoma, in 1961 to Carolyn and Hubert Covel. The Covel family relocated to Moore during Toby’s formative years, where he attended Highland West Junior High and then graduated from Moore High School in the Class of ’79. Throughout his teens, he dominated the football field as a 6’4” defensive end. His athleticism eventually took him to play semi-professional football for a brief stint with the Oklahoma City Drillers after high school, before he took on a career in the oilfield. 

With a lifelong affinity for music, Keith was only 20 years old when he formed the “Easy Money Band” with some friends and began performing at local venues and honky tonks. But the “easy money” on the side for show gigs couldn’t keep him afloat when the oil industry’s downturn in 1982 left him unemployed. The change, however, did afford him the chance to focus on his passion for country music full-time. 

Keith jumped in with both feet and took off to Nashville — where he began humbly, playing on street corners and distributing his recorded demos. One day a representative from Mercury Records witnessed his performance at a Nashville bar and agreed to sign the singer-songwriter, and his career in music was set into motion. 

In 1993, he dropped his first single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which went on to become one of the most listened-to country songs of the ’90s, along with five other Top 5 hits from his self-titled debut album. This sparked his journey on tour with Shania Twain, exposing him to an even wider audience, and he became known for his songwriting and performance. 

Some other favorite hit songs we remember include “How Do You Like Me Now?” in 1999, “I Wanna Talk About Me” in 2001, “Red Solo Cup” in 2011 and so many more. But a standout also had to be “I Love This Bar” in 2003 — which inspired the restaurants Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, current locations of which are operated by renowned group Hal Smith Restaurants and feature menu items inspired by some of Keith’s favorite meals. 

In addition to his musical endeavors, Keith was celebrated for his philanthropy and unwavering support for American communities and troops overseas. In 2002, he joined forces with the USO to perform 18 shows for deployed soldiers. Later, he also went on to establish the Toby Keith Foundation in 2006 and OK Kids Corral in 2015, both offering vital support to pediatric cancer patients and their families.

The concerts, the singalongs, the laughter and the tears — Keith’s music brought so many emotions to the surface of our hearts. These memories, along with his charitable efforts, can be a source of pride for his fans and our community for many years to come.

Interested in seeing stories on other Oklahoma icons who have left a legacy behind? Check out this article on Tom Love, of Love’s Travel Stops.