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Jason Aldean Pays Tribute to Toby Keith With ‘Should’ve Been a Cowboy’ at 2024 ACM Awards



Keith’s debut single was stripped down to acoustic guitars and a string quartet

Jason Aldean paid tribute to Toby Keith at the 2024 ACM Awards, performing a elegantly low-key version of “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” Keith’s 1993 debut single, backed by a string quartet.

Blake Shelton introduced the performance, honoring his fellow Oklahoma native. The audience singing along was loud and clear as Aldean delivered the classic song. Behind Aldean, photos of Keith performing or with his family flashed by and the camera often panned to tearful and visibly moved audience members.

Keith died in February at 62 after a years-long battle with stomach cancer. The Sooner State native and Nashville outsider had a long history with the Academy of Country Music, who bestowed the Merle Haggard Spirit Award upon him in 2021. Keith also won the ACM Awards’ top prize of Entertainer of the Year back-to-back in 2002 and 2003.


His first Number One hit, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” has been a favorite among artists seeking to remember since his death. Brooks & Dunn covered it at last month’s CMT Music Awards, Carrie Underwood sang it on the Grand Ole Opry in April, Luke Combs sang it at the Ryman Auditorium, and Flatland Cavalry have been making it part of their set. Keith wrote the song solo and it evokes the grandeur of the West, but also references more than a few TV cowboys, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Gunsmoke‘s Matt Dillon. Keith gave his final performance of “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” on Dec. 14, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Aldean dropped his latest album, Highway Desperado, last year. He won the ACM for Entertainer of the Year for three consecutive years, beginning in 2015.

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