During the show, Garth Brooks made the surprise announcement that the Opry would be honoring Keith Whitley, who passed away three weeks before he was to become a member, with a replica member plaque in recognition of his contributions not only to the Opry but to country music.
And after Garth’s presentation, Jesse Keith and Lorrie honored Keith with an incredible, moving performance of “Tell Lorrie I Love Her.”
The song was released in 1990, the year after Keith passed away on May 9, 1989. And Whiskey Riff spoke with Lorrie and Jesse before the show about the heartbreaking history behind the song – which was recorded by Keith on a worktape in their home while their daughter, Morgan, was watching TV:
“I didn’t know we had the tape. Keith did the worktape on it at home, sitting on the counter in his underwear with his guitar, singing this song. And Morgan is a little girl in the background with the TV up real loud, so you could hear actually the TV noise in the song.
But when Keith and I got married, he gave the song, a little cassette to Curtis Young, who was one of the greatest harmony singers in Nashville. And he asked Curtis if he could sing it at our wedding. So Curtis took the tape and learned the song from that.
And the day of Keith’s funeral, before I got into the limo to go to the cemetery, Curtis Young walked up to me and handed me the cassette tape and said ‘I think you need this back.'”
And while they were on the way to the cemetery, Lorrie and her family, along with the head of RCA Records, Joe Galante, popped that tape in the cassette player:
“Oddly enough, I was in the limo with Joe Galante and my manager, and Morgan was in there with me, and all of a sudden we just put it in on the way. And Joe Galante said, ‘Why did Keith never play this for us?'”
The record executive knew right there in the limo on the way to Keith Whitley’s burial that he wanted to release the song, and asked Lorrie for the tape so he could have Keith’s longtime producer, Garth Fundis, mix the song for release:
“I said yes, but it’s my only copy. So he sent me the finished version of it, and they put it on his final album.”
The ballad, written for Lorrie and Keith’s wedding, takes on a new, heartbreaking meaning as Jesse and Lorrie perform it at the Grand Ole Opry:
“Tell Lorrie I love her Tell Lorrie I need her Tell her everything would be okay If I could just see her Tell Lorrie I love her Tell Lorrie I need her And if I leave this old world Tell her she’s the only girl for me”
You could hear a pin drop as the audience wiped their eyes during the tribute – a tribute to Lorrie, written by her late husband, and performed by her son while she sang with him on stage.
What a moment.
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