ENTERTAINMENT Toby Keith’s daughter says late country music legend told her never apologize for being patriotic-b

Toby Keith’s legacy is still leaving a mark on family, friends and fans months after his death from stomach cancer in February.

On Saturday, during the University of Oklahoma’s commencement ceremony, Keith’s daughter, Krystal Keith, accepted an honorary degree on his behalf.

“When he learned last fall that he was being inducted to Sooner Nation on this high of a level, he was so excited, and he was so proud,” Krystal said during her speech while accepting the degree.

She continued, “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.”

Toby Keith’s daughter, Krystal Keith, accepted his honorary degree from the University of Oklahoma on Saturday on his behalf. (Richard McLaren/University of Oklahoma)


Krystal went on to describe Keith’s love and dedication to the college, beginning as a young teen.

“His passion started far back before he was 12 and 13. He sold Cokes at the stadium just to be able to see the OU games. He joked that he would sell them for half the game, and then he would go sit and watch the game and sometimes got in trouble for not finishing his job.”

Keith was so dedicated to the Sooner team that “He broke his ankle playing a celebrity OU Alumni game in the ’90s. For as long as I can remember, he took our family to bowl games and was on every sideline or courtside of every OU event that he possibly could, regardless of sport or gender. He wanted to be at all of them. He supported them wholeheartedly. He simply bled Crimson and Cream.”

The work ethic continued into his music career.

Keith’s daughter praised his work ethic, recalling that he always said “he made sure to work hard to have the best, to be the best.” (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“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,’” Krystal recalled. “And that made all the difference. 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.”

Krystal also highlighted her father’s patriotism, something he proudly encouraged in his children, saying, “He always said, ‘Never apologize for being patriotic,’ and practiced what he preached through his work with the USO [United Service Organizations].”

Recounting some of his 11 tours, she recalled, “He was going into the most dangerous zones, where guys that never got those entertainers to come to them, were housed and were sitting, and he would go and boost their morale. And that’s who he wanted to go see. We called him Captain America. And that’s something he earned.”

Krystal said she and her family called Keith “Captain America” for all his work touring with the USO. (Greg Watermann)


Krystal concluded her speech, saying, “My dad taught me everything: singing, writing songs and … most of what I know about life. And I hope the graduates that are here today can learn from him, too. He fought hard to live his dream.”

“He had faith and believed in himself. He never gave up the fight, even when the odds were against him. 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. Work hard and be the captain of your own ship. Believe in yourself and live your dream.”

Krystal Keith, second from right, is shown with University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr., left, David Proctor and Ashley Harroz backstage at the university’s commencement ceremony. (University of Oklahoma)

Keith’s honorary degree is just one of several honors that have been bestowed on the singer since his death.

The “Red Solo Cup” singer died on Feb. 6 after a nearly two-year battle with stomach cancer.

“Toby Keith passed away peacefully last night on February 5th, surrounded by his family,” a statement posted to his website read at the time.

Keith died in February from stomach cancer at age 62. (Katherine Bomboy/NBC via Getty Images)


“He fought his fight with grace and courage,” it continued. “Please respect the privacy of his family at this time.”

Following his death, an outpouring of love from the country music community and beyond began.

In March, it was announced that Keith had been selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, just days before he died.

As Sarah Trahern, the chief executive of the Country Music Association, noted in the livestream event announcing his induction, “As we know now, we woke up that morning to the heartbreaking news that our friend, Toby Keith, lost his long battle with stomach cancer. What’s bittersweet is that just a few hours later, our team received word … that he’d been elected in the modern era category.”

The Country Music Hall of Fame announced Keith was being inducted, learning that he had been voted in just days before his death. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/File)

She continued, “My heart sank knowing we missed the chance to inform Toby while he was still with us, but I have no doubt that he is smiling down on us, knowing that he will always be ‘as good as he once was.’”

Trahern also explained that the rules typically state that someone can’t be inducted in the year in which they die, but Keith was selected before he died, though it was just days prior.

Voting closed on Feb. 2, and the final numbers were revealed to the Country Music Association on Feb. 6, the same day Keith’s family announced his death.

The induction ceremony will be held in October at the CMA Theater in Nashville, Tennessee, when Keith will join John Anderson and James Burton, his fellow inductees this year, and other hallowed icons like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Ray Charles.

“He always said, ‘Never apologize for being patriotic,’ and practiced what he preached through his work with the USO.”

— Krystal Keith, daughter of the late Toby Keith

Following that honor in April, stars like Sammy Hagar, Lainey Wilson, Roger Clemens and Brooks & Dunn collaborated at the CMT Awards to perform a handful of Keith’s songs in his honor.

Clemens called Keith his “true friend and patriot” during his introduction for the performances.

Hagar recalled the good times with his drinking buddy, telling the crowd, “Toby and I, we spent a lot of time in Cabo together over the years. I mean, we closed the Cabo Wabo down a lot more times than we even remember. It’s hard to get thrown out of your own bar, and we managed to do that.”

On the red carpet before the show, Wilson told Fox News Digital, “I don’t know anybody in this business that doesn’t love Toby. He was truly the soundtrack to my childhood. … Seeing all of his stuff and all the visions that he had come to life, it made me feel like there’s nothing wrong with being fearless, there’s nothing wrong with going against the grain and standing up for what you believe in and being unapologetically yourself.”

Performers at the CMT Awards in March raised a red cool cup in honor of the late icon. (Getty Images)


Later that month, Jelly Roll recorded a cover of Keith’s iconic song “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” assisted by T-Pain, released on Amazon Music Originals and performed live at the Stagecoach music festival.

Proceeds from the song benefited Keith’s children’s cancer charity, the Toby Keith Foundation.

Jelly Roll told Variety that he had the idea to do a formal cover of the song after performing it “for about a year now at most of my shows, just kind of honoring Toby as he was getting sick before he passed away. Then I really started chewing on, man, what better place to honor Toby than Stagecoach? Plus, Toby Keith was one of the artists that, from afar, even though he would never have known it, encouraged me to do country music.”

He continued, “He was an outlier. He was unapologetically Oklahoma. There are a lot of things he did that encouraged me and empowered me. He was very individualistic and carved his own path, and he did it his own way, from pillar to post. He never knew it, but he was a mentor to me, just watching him from afar.”

Jelly Roll performed a cover of Keith’s song, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” at the Stagecoach festival this year. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Stagecoach)


“I’ve been covering the song and Toby’s son saw me at the CMTs and took me to the side and said, ‘Hey man, I want to let you know I’ve seen a video of you covering this song, and I think it’s one of the best versions of it ever. And I think you honor my father.’ And it just meant so much to me,” Jelly Roll added.

Keith had 20 No. 1 Billboard hits to his name, including “How Do You Like Me Now?!” “As Good As I Once Was,” “My List” and “Beer for My Horses,” a duet with Willie Nelson.

His studio album, “Peso in My Pocket,” debuted in 2019, but Keith made one final recording before his death.

He collaborated with Luke Bryan on a cover of the Joe Diffie song, “Ships That Don’t Come In,” featured on the album “HARDY’s Hixtape: Vol 3: Difftape,” a compilation album with other artists like Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker released in March.

Keith recorded his final song, a cover of the song “Ships That Don’t Come In,” with Luke Combs. (Getty Images)

The lyrics of “Ships That Don’t Come In” tell the story of two men talking about life’s difficulties at a bar, but instead of being sad, they celebrate life’s chances and toast to those whose lives were cut short, including members of the military.

At the time of Keith’s death, Luke Combs shared a simple message on X, writing, “Damn, RIP Toby. Can’t believe it.”

A few days later, Combs performed a private show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, where he happily played Keith’s hit “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.”

According to Taste of Country, Combs heard the audience shouting requests for a Keith song, and he replied, “I’m glad you guys asked, because we didn’t know if we should do a Toby song. It’s good to know you love Toby’s music as much as we do.”

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