Keith Whitley Biography

Review The Artist (30)

Keith Whitley-photo
Keith Whitley’s legacy loomed large over the country music landscape of the '90s. A talented new country singer and songwriter, Whitley was just beginning to emerge as a superstar at the time of his death in 1989.

Born and raised in Kentucky, Whitley began singing as a child, winning a talent contest at the age of four. When he was eight years old he learned how to play guitar and within a year he was singing on a Charleston, WV based radio station. Whitley formed his first band at the age of 13, playing nothing but straight bluegrass.

A few years later, he formed The Lonesome Mountain Boys with his high school friend, Ricky Skaggs. In the late '60s, Ralph Stanley was looking to re-form his band after the death of his brother and partner, Carter. He was so impressed with Whitley and Skaggs, he asked them to join his Clinch Mountain Boys group. The duo accepted the offer immediately and began appearing with the band in 1970. Whitley stayed with the band for two years, recording a total of seven albums, including 1971's "Crying from the Cross" which was named the Bluegrass Album of the Year.

In 1973, he left the group. For two years, he drifted through various other bands, including acts that played country, not bluegrass. He returned to the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1975 and stayed with them for another two years. During his second tenure with the band, he made five albums. In 1978, he joined J.D. Crowe’s band the New South Whitley recorded three albums with the New South between 1978 and 1982, which vacilated between bluegrass and straight country.

Whitley began a full-fledged solo career after leaving the band New South in 1982. Signing with RCA Records, he released his debut album, Hard Act to Follow, in 1984. A record of pure honky tonk, it didn't attract much of an audience. The following year, he released L.A. to Miami, a more commercial affair which spawned the number 14 single "Miami, My Amy." After that single peaked early in 1986, he had three back-to-back Top Ten hits -- "Ten Feet Away," "Homecoming '63," and "Hard Livin'."

Late in 1986, he married country and western singer Lorrie Morgan. In 1987, he recorded a follow-up to the record that sounded exactly the same as its predecessor. Unsatisfied with the musical direction of his new effort, Whitley convinced RCA to shelve the completed album and have him work on another record with a new producer, Garth Fundis. Don’t Close your Eyes was the result. The first three singles from Don’t Close Your Eyes --"Don't Close Your Eyes," "When You Say Nothing At All," and "I'm No Stranger to the Rain" -- were all number one hits.

Things may have been going smoothly on the surface for Whitley, but behind the scenes he was being torn apart by alcoholism. On May 9, 1989, he suffered from a fatal case of alcohol poisoning; he was 34 at the time of his demise. Just before his death, he completed his fourth album, I wonder do You Think of Me. The record was released shortly after his death and its first single, which was the title track, reached number one, as did its follow-up, "It Ain't Nothin; " another single from the album, "I'm Over You," reached number three in 1990. Lorrie Morgan recorded an electronic duet, "'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose," with her late husband in 1990; it peaked at number 13. In 1994, a tribute album to Whitley was released.

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His friend | Reviewer: Anonymous | 10/10/14

I grew up in Sandy Hook with Keith, one of the best friends I ever had. I loved him and miss him so much. A wonderful singer but even more than anything he was my friend.

A great talent lost all too soon. | Reviewer: Mikki | 3/31/13

I loved to dance to his music. Took me away to a world I wanted but couldn't have. I have seen all kinds of alcolism - from soemone who could work every day and drink all night, to those who couldn't stay away from it like Keith and would drink rubbing alcohol, shaving lotion, and the alcohol that burns to keep food warm and it is just such a horrible disease. Those that have it this bad just can't help it. Its like their body craves it and needs it to keep them moving when all it does is slowly killing them from the inside out. Keith had a great talent and he was lost to us all too soon. So sad.

a different voice | Reviewer: lenny fox | 10/30/12

i'ved been a lover of country music in a long time from the old to the new ones today.But among all these, keith whitley songs remained one of my favorites his voice had a distinction some kind of a emotions within.Just now that i'ved learned that he's already gone long time ago just reading his biography on the net.

A voice still rings true | Reviewer: Blake | 1/20/12

I turn 25 this year and I was raised on Keith Whitley's music as well as other country classics like George Strait and Alabama. He had such a distinct voice that no one could ever copy and he poured so much emotion into his songs. Those two things were, IMO, what really set him apart from so many other singers in that era along with being such a down-to-earth genuine person. Keith Whitley died way before his time and was just hitting his stride when he so tragically left us. I still believe that Lorrie Morgan had a little more to do with his death than she probably let on. Keith's career was blossoming when he passed away, it's just hard to imagine why he drank himself to death when he had such a great life and so much going for him. RIP, Keith Whitley, you are dearly missed. I can't wait to hear your voice live up there in heaven. God bless.

A voice still rings true | Reviewer: Blake | 1/20/12

I turn 25 this year and I was raised on Keith Whitley's music as well as other country classics like George Strait and Alabama. He had such a distinct voice that no one could ever copy and he poured so much emotion into his songs. Those two things were, IMO, what really set him apart from do many other singers in that era

memories of long ago | Reviewer: kimberly | 1/11/12

My mom was a huge fan of Keith. when i was five we went to one of his concerts. I will never forget it. She was ecstatic.. n i remember falling asleep in the back of the car listening to him sing that night. Im 29 now and my mom passed in 94'. So its a memory I will always cherish.

long time fan | Reviewer: Darren in Florida | 12/6/11

I first heard Keith's music the late 80's when I was in high school. I used to sing along when his songs were playing more so than other singers (especially if I was snuggled up with a girl.) I grduated in '88 and when he passed away I was still a little young to understand what was lost. After a few years, I relized that an awsome country artist was no longer here but the music he left with us will live on foreever. Thanks Keith. "It ain't nothin", brother.

keith your voice will be forever in my head | Reviewer: dalton root | 10/22/11

ive been listinin to country for years and i never knew keith igsisted untill last year and i can honestly say his songs our i nice way to relax i love that song of his some old side road i listin to it daily there is something about his voice that just puts my mind to rest this will always be my favorite singer i wish you were still here keith this new country and nothing like yours

his voice echos in your soul! | Reviewer: Bill Csondor | 9/8/11

When You Say Nothing At All(Duet) was our song my wife and I danced to at our wedding 15 years ago.Things have been a little bumpy lately but everytime I hear this song it brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.He sung from his heart to your soul and made you feel better! Thank you Keith,hope your having a good time singing to all the angels!

gone but still here | Reviewer: william cummings | 7/8/11

ive got just about every thing he ever done what can i say that hasnt been said we know we all miss him very much i sing his songs at karaoke people say i sound good i have even won contests singing his songs i tell theme nobody can sing like keith we all miss you keith ill never foget you and as long as theres a breath in me i will sing youre songs we love you keith

Just learned of him | Reviewer: Anonymous | 6/16/11

Im 28 and just learned of him. I loved the song When you say nothing at all by Allsion Krauss, decided to click on the whitley video, and damn, the man can straight up sing! I'm shocked by how early he died and the way it happened. Very very sad. This song will remain in my heart forever from hearing it sung by him just one time!!!

A lot in common | Reviewer: alvin mobley | 6/11/11


so sorry | Reviewer: larry key | 3/22/11

I am so sorry for the loss of Keith Whitley, I have and play his albums over and over. I was of the opinion that Keith's drinking problem was due to his wife's (Lorrie Morgan) running around on him. Is my understanding correct? Or, was Lorrie given a bum rap? Larry

Keith Whitley's Last Appearance | Reviewer: Sandi Deyo | 3/18/11

Sadly, I must say... I played with Keith Whitley the night before he overdosed on alcohol. We opened for a huge show in Brazoria, Texas. A Giant Texas-Size dance-hall, called The Armadillo Ballroom.
(yea... sounds tasteless enough to make anyone drink) But this is and was a very serious matter. I, personally had waited ten years for him to receive the attention he had long deserved. The club was packed! This was a big club... It has been too long for me to remember the number of people it held for concert style seating.
I had made gotten to know some members of his band, in Nashville (while recording there) and was very excited about opening for them. But this night was different than any other big show we had opened for in the past. And we had quite a few under our belts. The band (probably well aware that Keith was "gone again" had to be on the ball, I can only imagine... as playing "drunk" could not be a comfortable feeling. There was absolutely no SPARKLE in Keith's eyes, as he sang flawlessly but lacked everything it takes to be magical on stage. Still, the audience, "star struck" never seemed to notice.
I did! I also noticed that the band never mingled with us, during or after the show (Very Strange) all celebrities that I've played with watched, enjoyed and hung out after the clubs close. I knew this was an ominous night.
This night provided a crossroad, for me. I decided then, before I knew anything that playing on the road was not for me. At least not at this level. Playing copy music, opening for celebrities & entertaining on a local level. I wanted to be home, and announced I was retiring, from this scene.
Imagine my shock, when I heard the news the following Monday. Keith Whitley Country Music Artist was found dead in his hotel room. An unforgettably sad chill still runs through my body, as I think back. It's such a sad reality that he obviously suffered silently, from a deadly disease. It's my hope that the stigma attached to the disease "Alcoholism" will soon be broken away~ so those who suffer; as well as those affected by those they love, with the disease can receive the help they need without suffering the secondary blow.... judgement by others.
A Public Awareness Should Be Made to STOP the madness "Alcoholism."
rest in peace~ keith whitley

The greatest singer in the world! | Reviewer: Kylor Snyder | 2/23/11

Im only eighteen but i have listened to Keith Whitley everyday for five years now! He is the greatest singer i have ever heard. He puts so much of what he feels in his songs. If you are going through a rough time in life there is no doubt that all you have to do is listen to a Keith Whitley song and he will help you out. He is the man,the legend,THE VOICE!!!!!

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