What more is there to say about Keith Whitley that hasn’t already been said?
Despite his career being cut short by his untimely death on May 9, 1989 at only 34 years old, Keith Whitley is widely recognized as one of the greatest country singers of all time. I’ve said many times that if he had lived, Keith Whitley would be the King of Country Music, one of the biggest artists of all time.
Even though Whitley only released two albums and an EP during his lifetime, his music has influenced artists for decades, and even 34 years after his passing, most country artists you talk to would include Keith Whitley on their Mount Rushmore of country music.
And of course his songs remain iconic, with hits like “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “When You Say Nothing At All,” “I’m No Stranger To The Rain,” and so many more.
Whiskey Riff spoke with Keith Whitley’s widow, a country legend herself, Lorrie Morgan, ahead of a star-studded show at the Opry to honor Whitley.
And as she explained, Keith didn’t even know that he was about to be made a member of the Grand Ole Opry when he passed away – something Lorrie found out from the Opry’s former general manager Hal Durham:
“He didn’t know it. It was a surprise that Hal Durham told me.
We walked up to Keith’s coffin, and we were both standing there, and I was holding onto Keith’s hand and Hal kinda shook his head and he said, ‘Just three weeks away from being a member.'”
Lorrie also wondered whether knowing he was about to be made a member of the Opry – something he had always dreamed of – would have been enough to keep Whitley going:
“I don’t know if he would have known if he would have maybe stayed calm a little longer, I don’t know. But I don’t ever know what made Keith do what Keith did.
But I just have a feeling that if he knew that was something that huge and special coming up for him, maybe it would have been something to keep him tame for a little while longer.
He would have been very excited. That was his dream. It was his #1 dream to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Well tonight at the Opry, Keith Whitley finally got his name among the members of the Grand Ole Opry.
During the show, Garth Brooks joined Lorrie and her children, Jesse Keith and Morgan Whitley, on stage to announce to the audience that Whitley would be honored with a plaque like those presented to members of the Grand Ole Opry, which will hang backstage to recognize the contributions Keith Whitley made not only to the Grand Ole Opry, but to country music.
“I will say this: Garth Brooks would never be anywhere close to getting the life and the joy of singing I got if it wasn’t for Keith Whitley. This guy is country music.
So it’s an honor to be here today.
As you guys know, the voice of Keith Whitley was silenced on May 9, 1989, just three weeks before he was supposed to become an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.
So this plaque is the plaque that you get when you become an Opry member. I’m very lucky to have one of these. It’s out there.
The Opry house has decided in his recognition to put this out there with the other Opry members.
I will say this: Whether he got to be officially inducted or not, the fact of having Keith Whitley’s name out there among the rest will elevate the Grand Ole Opry and guys like me who have my name out there.”
The plaque will hang alongside a display detailing Opry membership throughout the years. But not only will Whitley be recognized among other Opry members, a portrait of Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan will also be hung among all the other country music couples who have been members of the Grand Ole Opry throughout the institution’s storied history.
Whitley’s plaque reads:
“The voice of Keith Whitley was silenced on May 9, 1989, just three weeks before he was to have become an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.
This plaque, a replica of those which recognize official Opry members in the Opry House Member Gallery, is presented in recognition that while Keith Whitley’s life may have ended before his dream of Opry membership was realized, his incredible influence endures on the Opry and country music worldwide.
Grand Ole Opry October 14, 2023″
A well-deserved honor – 34 years after Keith Whitley’s death.