Country music hall announces Keith Whitley exhibit
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum tells the story of Ashland, Kentucky, native Keith Whitley in its exhibition Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley. The exhibit opens May 3, 2019, and runs through April 5, 2020.
Whitley, who was born in Ashland, but raised in Sandy Hook, 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 tremendous influence on subsequent generations of country singers.
Many of the groundbreaking artists who expanded country music’s audience in the 1990s— including Country Music Hall of Fame member Garth Brooks, Country Music Hall of Fame member 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, 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, about 46 miles from his birthplace of Ashland. He made his radio debut at age eight, 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.
In 1982, Whitley signed with the Nashville division of RCA to great acclaim from fans of traditional country music. Whitley delivered a successful and critically lauded album, Don’t Close Your Eyes.
Whitley’s career success was mirrored by newfound happiness in his personal life. In 1989, 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 passed away from alcohol poisoning.
I Wonder Do You Think of Me was released three months later, on August 1, 1989, and it yielded two more No. 1 hits, with the title track and “It Ain’t Nothin’.” “I’m Over You” also reached No. 3, in early 1990.
Items featured in Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley include stage wear, significant instruments and personal artifacts representative of Whitley’s childhood and music career. Some highlights include:
• A Sony TC-540 reel-to-reel tape recorder with detachable speakers, used by Elmer Whitley to record the Lonesome Mountain Boys, a bluegrass group featuring his sons Dwight and Keith (recordings were broadcast weekly on radio station WLKS)
• A Dangerous Threads bolero jacket worn by Whitley at one of his final public performances in March 1989A 1980
• C.W. Parsons & Co. acoustic guitar with walnut finish used extensively by Whitley-Original draft of Country Music Hall of Fame member
• Don Schlitz’s handwritten lyrics to “When You Say Nothing at All,” a No. 1 hit for Whitley in 1988 (co-written with Paul Overstreet)