If Keith Whitley Hadn’t Tragically Passed Away, Would He Have Been The “King Of Country Music” Instead Of George Strait?

Keith Whitley
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George Strait is often called the King of Country Music.

But I’ve often argued (and I’m not the only) that if Keith Whitley hadn’t tragically passed away on May 9, 1989, he would have eclipsed even Strait as the biggest name in country music.

When you look at what Keith Whitley did in such a short career, it’s clear that he was an unstoppable force with his incredible songs of love and heartbreak, with hits like “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “I’m No Stranger To The Rain,” “Miami, My Amy,” and “When You Say Nothing At All” that are still staples to this day, 34 years after his death.

When Keith Whitley sang, you felt every word of the pain in his music, of the emotion in his voice, and of his love for country music. And it’s because of that I firmly believe that if he had been able to continue on the rocketship he was on, Keith Whitley would be universally recognized as the King of Country Music.

And one other person who agrees with me? Keith Whitley’s son, Jesse Keith Whitley.

The Grand Ole Opry paid tribute to the country music legend last year with a star-studded show, and Whiskey Riff sat down with Jesse Keith and his mother, country music superstar and Keith Whitley’s widow Lorrie Morgan, to talk about the impact that Keith had on country music.

And when I asked Jesse whether he thought that his dad would have been the King, there was no hesitation:

“There is no doubt. No doubt.”

And Lorrie thinks that even George Strait would agree:

“I think George would even bow down to that, by gosh.

I think he would. I think he is the top of the line, he really is. And I never heard Keith sing bad. I never heard him sing live bad, in the studio bad, at home bad. He was just gifted. And I think anybody would not deny that if they’re smart enough.

He would have been the King of Country Music. He would have been.”

But Jesse says his dad never recognized what an impact he was making:

“He would be floored right now. It’s so crazy to see so many younger artists now that are discovering that style of country music, and they’re such huge fans of dads. It really blows me away.”

It’s something that Lorrie said Keith would get a kick out of if he could see:

“If he got to see that he would just cackle. He’d be sitting in his chair with that belly laugh. He was so humble about how great he was. Cause he didn’t know. He really didn’t.”

I think Jesse summed it up perfectly when discussing Keith Whitley’s music:

“His music is timeless. It doesn’t get old.”

I think we can all agree on that. And I think that if he were with us today, we’d all agree that Keith Whitley was the King of Country Music.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock