The news of Toby Keith's death after a three-year stomach cancer battle rocked the music world on Tuesday morning. Keith leaves behind a legacy that includes a successful music career and many charitable works through The Toby Keith Foundation. The singer was influential in the country music of the '90s and early 2000s with his heartbreak tunes, bold patriotic anthems and humorous songs. But Keith was also instrumental in the early career of one aspiring teenage songwriter turned superstar named Taylor Swift.
Swift made her introduction to country fans with her 2006 debut single, "Tim McGraw," after signing with then-brand new record label, Big Machine Records. Although it was Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta who initially discovered Swift at Nashville's Bluebird Café, Keith was part of the team that launched her, as his label, Show Dog Nashville, was partnered with Big Machine.
According to a WSMV new story from 2005, Keith was among Swift's early believers. In an interview with Swift — then 15 years old — she expressed her admiration for Keith.
"You're in a room with him, and you can feel it. There's a power there. It's just like, 'Oh my God,'" she said at the time. "I don't think I'll ever get to a point where I won't see him and be like, 'Oh my God, that's Toby Keith.'"
The partnership between Show Dog Nashville and Big Machine was short lived, and the two companies parted ways in March 2006. At the time, both parties assured it was not a falling out, but rather the overwhelming volume of artists that caused the split. Keith retained his stake in Big Machine after the separation.
Show Dog eventually merged with Universal South, and Swift went on to flourish with Big Machine, forging the path for her superstar status of today. (She split from Big Machine in 2018.)
Keith passed away on Monday, Feb. 5. He was 62. The announcement of his death prompted tributes from all corners of the celebrity world on Tuesday.
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