Bookended in tributes to two of country music greats, The 56th Annual CMA Awards opened with a replay of Loretta Lynn, who died on Oct. 4 at the age of 90, accepting her CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1972 at Ryman Auditorium and followed by a medley of her hits performed by Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, and Miranda Lambert.
Nearly closing out the awards ceremony, The Black Keys and Elle King teamed up for a tribute to rock pioneer and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, the late Jerry Lee Lewis, who died on Oct. 28 at 87 with a fiery rendition of his 1957 hit “Great Balls of Fire.”
Dressed in patent leather pants with a striped buttoned-down shirt, a la classic 1950s Lewis, with the words “The Killer” stitched on the back of her pants, King pounded on the piano keys to Lewis’ classic backed by The Black Keys.
At one point, the top of the piano burst out in flames, prompting King to stand and show off “The Killer” prominently stitched to the back of her skin-tight pants as she slammed down harder on the keys.
Written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer and released in 1957 by Lewis while he was with Sun Records, “Great Balls of Fire” also appeared in the film Jamboree that same year, which starred Lewis, Fats Domino, Frankie Avalon and more. The song reached the country and pop charts and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 16, just 12 days before his death, but he was unable to make the ceremony since he was still coping from a recent bout with the flu. Kris Kristofferson presented Lewis with his Hall of Fame medallion at his bedside in Memphis.
“To be recognized by country music with their highest honor is a humbling experience,” said Lewis in a statement following the news of his induction. “The little boy from Ferriday, Lousiana listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams never thought he’d be in a Hall amongst them.”
The Black Keys recently wrapped their U.S. tour in support of their new album, Dropout Boogie, released in May 2022, while King is currently gearing up to release her third album in 2023, Come Get Your Wife, a follow-up to her 2018 release, Shake the Spirit.
Main Photo: John Russell/CMA