"He was someone I always looked up to," Kramer told PEOPLE of Keith, who died age 62 on Monday after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2021
Jana Kramer and Chuck Wicks were among the musicians remembering Keith, whose family confirmed he had "passed peacefully" after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2021, at Tuesday night's Melodies for Minds event held at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville.
Speaking exclusively to PEOPLE, Kramer, 40, said of Keith, "I mean, as a country artist, he was someone I always looked up to, how he just loved his fans and put on an amazing show."
"I just have always been a huge fan of him and it was so sad," the "I Got the Boy" singer continued. "My heart broke for him and his family and hopefully he's in a better place resting up there."
Meanwhile, Wicks, 44, told PEOPLE that he "grew up" with Keith's music, recalling the "surreal" moments where he would see the “Red Solo Cup” crooner at awards shows.
"Well, I'm like any other fan, right? I love Toby Keith. I loved his music, grew up with his music. And then when I became an artist and moved town, got a record deal and I was seeing him at award shows. He was always surreal to me," Wicks said.
"He was always bigger than life. And I think that's what people loved about him so much is, he's this big guy up there, bigger than life guy singing hit song after hit song."
Adding that fans and artists alike loved Keith, Wicks said, "Everybody loved Toby."
The "All I Ever Wanted" singer said he'd spoken to Keith at the 2023 People's Choice Country Awards in September, mentioning Keith's performance of his 2019 track "Don't Let the Old Man In" at the ceremony, where he also accepted the music icon award.
"I think a lot of people are going to remember him from that night in that song because it was very special to hear him sing it and so much emotion and he'll definitely be missed for sure," Wicks said, urging country radio and fans to send the song to the top of the charts.
"I think they should do it. 'Don't Let the Old Man In' should be a Toby Keith number one song," Wicks added.
Keith performed his final shows just two months ago, taking the stage at Park MGM in Las Vegas on Dec. 10, 11 and 14, 2023.
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"3 sold out shows in Vegas was a damn good way to end the year," he posted on Instagram on Dec. 28 alongside a Reel of the performances.
His family shared a statement on X (formerly known as Twitter) on Tuesday, confirming the musician had died the previous day.
"Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on Feb. 5 surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage," the statement read. "Please respect the privacy of his family at this time."
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