Whitley gets exhibit at Country Music HOF

May 3, 2019

The Herald-Dispatch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum tells the story of a soulful singer and Tri-State native singer - the late, great Keith Whitley - in its exhibition “Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley.” The exhibit opens Friday, May 3, and runs through April 5, 2020.

Whitley, who hailed from Sandy Hook, in Elliott County, Kentucky, completed only four solo studio albums before his death in 1989, at age 33. But despite the brevity of his career, he produced many significant country hits, and his music continues to exert an influence on subsequent generations of country singers.

Many of the ground-breaking artists who expanded country music’s audience in the 1990s, such as Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss and Tim McGraw, cite Whitley as a primary influence. His impact continues into the new century, through the work of acolytes Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Chris Young and others.

“Whitley’s haunting and emotional voice represented the resurgence of the traditional sound on mainstream country radio,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “His bluegrass roots and love for honky-tonk music led to his unique, drawling style that continues to inspire and influence today’s country music artists. We are honored to examine the indelible impact of Whitley’s brief but significant career.”

Born July 1, 1955, Whitley was raised in Sandy Hook, a tiny Appalachian coal-mining town. He made his radio debut at age 8, performing “You Win Again,” a 1952 Hank Williams hit, on WCHS in Charleston. At age 13, the singer began his professional career in earnest, forming a band with his older brother Dwight and friend and future Country Music Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs. Just two years later, Whitley and Skaggs joined the Clinch Mountain Boys, led by their musical hero Ralph Stanley. Whitley’s warm baritone appears on several Clinch Mountain Boys albums and on the records of J.D. Crowe & the New South.

Whitley’s successful and critically lauded album, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” contained singles that would be his first No. 1 hits: “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “When You Say Nothing at All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” named CMA Single of the Year in 1989.

That year, Whitley was thriving, raising a family with second wife Lorrie Morgan. Then, on May 9, 1989, shortly after finishing work on his next studio album, “I Wonder Do You Think of Me,” Whitley died from alcohol poisoning.

“I Wonder Do You Think of Me” was released three months later and it yielded two more No. 1 hits.

“I cannot express what an honor it is for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to recognize the late, great Keith Whitley as such an important part of country music history,” Morgan said. “He was not only instrumental in giving me the confidence I needed as an artist, but through the years, he has given many other up-and-coming stars the confidence and true grit they have acquired by loving and listening to the music of Keith Whitley. This exhibit is not just Keith’s life in music, but also depicts his love for country as well as bluegrass music.”

Items featured in the exhibit include stage wear, significant instruments and personal artifacts representative of Whitley’s childhood and music career.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is available at CountryMusicHallofFame.org or by calling 615-416-2001.