The Howl

Norman North High School's Student Newspaper

Norman North High School's Student Newspaper

The Howl

Norman North High School's Student Newspaper

The Howl

Country Star Toby Keith Dead at 62

Famous Country star, Toby Keith, performing at his last USO concert for U.S. service members in Camp Liberty, Iraq, April 29, 2011. | PDM 1.0 DEED

On Feb. 5, legendary Oklahoma native Toby Keith, passed away, aged 62, surrounded by loved ones after a battle with stomach cancer. Keith was a world-renowned country superstar, known for his hits “Red Solo Cup,” “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” and “Should Have Been a Cowboy”.

The family released a statement on social media asking fans to give them privacy.

Toby Keith’s death impacted people all around the world but hit close to home for a Norman North teacher. Mr. Sondag teaches World History and is a performing artist.

“Before I became a high school teacher I was a working rock-n-roll singer/guitarist. I still am today,” says Sondag.

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Mr. Sondag followed Keith’s career very early on and became a fan of his, admiring his work.

“I remember following his early career as an up-and-coming artist in country music, while my mates and I were slugging it out in rock clubs. I was always so impressed with Toby’s work ethic,” says Sondag.

Mr. Sondag always admired Toby Keith’s connection to his community and how involved he was around town.

“Toby wasn’t just a musician. He nurtured relationships with others in the industry, with his fans, and within his own community,” says Sondag.

When asked about his connection to Toby Keith, Sondag reminisced about the time he had played at one of Keith’s clubs, Hollywood Corners.

“The second time my band played at his Norman club, Hollywood Corners, Toby and his wife came out to hear us.  They stayed for our entire show.  When we finished, the club manager approached me and told me, “Toby loved your show, and he wants to meet you.”  I was so flabbergasted and nervous, but Toby was so sweet and gracious to all of us.  When I told Toby I was a history teacher at NNHS, he exploded with excitement and gave me a tour of his nightclub complete with an elaborate lesson on its history,” says Sondag.

Sondag’s and Keith’s friendship blossomed after Keith invited Sondag to play at several of his venues.

“Toby hired us for many other shows at his golf & country club and I Love This Bar & Grill in OKC … he always remembered my name and treated me with kindness and respect,” says Sondag.

Mr. Sondag is just an example of one of the people that Toby Keith touched with his legacy.

According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the musician was born Toby Keith Covel on July 8, 1961, in Oklahoma and raised on a farm outside of Oklahoma City. Before taking up a career as a professional country singer, Keith worked as a rodeo hand in high school and oil fields after he graduated, all the while performing in bars at night.

Toby Keith holding up a red solo cup at a USO concert for U.S. service members in Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2012. | PDM 1.0 DEED

According to the same source, In 1993, the star found his success with the breakthrough hit “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”. The song became the most-played song on country radio of the decade, and his self-titled debut album was certified platinum.  Toby Keith continued to trailblaze throughout the decade and into the early ‘00s with hits like 1999’s “How Do You Like Me Now?!” and 2000’s “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This,” and many others.

The honky-tonk singer’s songs resonated with fans all around with his songs telling stories of patriotism and hard work. His relatability earned him the coveted Entertainer of the Year award five times throughout his career at the ACM Awards, was eventually honored by the organization with the prestigious Merle Haggard Spirit Award in 2021 and was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021.

Toby Keith was not only a country star, but a massive donor. Keith began the Toby Keith Foundation in 2006 to encourage the health and happiness of pediatric cancer patients and to support the OK Kids Korral. Keith opened the OK Kids Korral in 2014 as 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 nearby facilities. In 2013, Norman North’s SPUD (Students Performing Unselfish Deeds) raised $201,427 for various recipients and donated $50,000 to Keith’s OK Kids Korral.

In 2015, Toby Keith teamed up with Norman business owner, Bob Thompson to renovate and reopen Hollywood Corners. Hollywood Corners is a deli with an outdoor music venue. Toby Keith has played at Hollywood Corners multiple times as have other residents of Norman and other musicians.

Toby Keith first broke the news of his diagnosis in September 2023 while attending the People’s Choice Country Awards.

Keith told E! News at the time that his cancer struggle is “a little bit of a roller coaster. You get good days and, you know, you’re up and down, up and down.”

Keith continued to perform up until his death and was survived by his three children and his wife.

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About the Contributors
Brandon Johnson, Co-editor in Chief
Hi! My name is Brandon, I'm currently the Co-editor in Chief of The Howl. This is my fourth year being with the paper. I enjoy sports, writing, and watching TV/movies. I look forward to covering many different events and topics this year.
Colby Pearce, Reporter

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    Connie MaplesMay 22, 2024 at 10:53 am

    Very well written, you may make a great writer someday, so keep up the good work!!
    Enjoyed the read‼️Maybe think about approaching the local newspaper and see about writing short stories