Keel Hunt was born in Nashville. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, he earned his master's degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has also attended the senior executive program of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
In his early career, Keel was a news reporter, editorial writer, Washington correspondent, and city editor of the The Tennessean newspaper. In 1977 he became research director and speechwriter for Lamar Alexander’s campaign for Governor of Tennessee. He was appointed Special Assistant to Governor Alexander in 1979 and was Coordinator of the Governor's Policy Group and Executive Director of the Tennessee State Planning Office.
In 1987-89 he was staff director of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Keel and his public affairs firm The Strategy Group have consulted to some of Tennessee's largest companies and institutions – from HCA, Ingram Industries, First Tennessee Bank and BellSouth/AT&T, to Meharry Medical College, MTSU, Lipscomb, and Vanderbilt universities.
In 1992-93, as the volunteer president of the Leadership Nashville Alumni Association, Keel organized Nashville’s Agenda, a landmark citywide visioning process that involved thousands of citizens across Davidson County. The original Agenda lead to creation of the Nashville Housing Fund, the Frist Art Museum, Nashville’s Davidson Group project on race relations, and other initiatives. A second process in 2007 identified 75 more “New Ideas from Nashvillians.” (Keel remains a member of the Nashville’s Agenda Steering Committee civic leadership group.)
In 2003 Keel was named project coordinator for the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which opened in 2006. He has also been on the planning teams for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and National Museum of African-American Music in Nashville, and the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro.
He is the author of three books on southern political history and culture: COUP: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor (Vanderbilt University Press, 2013), CROSSING THE AISLE: How Bipartisanship Brought Tennessee to the 21st Century and Could Save America (Vanderbilt, 2016) and THE FAMILY BUSINESS: How Ingram Transferred the World of Books (West Margin Press, 2021).
In 2013 became a regular columnist for the USA Today Tennessee Network.
Keel has been a Trustee of the Country Music Foundation, a board member of CABLE, and served on the Board of Visitors of MTSU’s Honors College. He and his wife Marsha live in Nashville and on Sanibel Island, Florida. They have two children and three grandchildren…but don’t get him started.