Twenty five years ago today, the world of country music was shattered with the news of Keith Whitley’s passing. The Kentucky native died facing his demons of the bottle, but left an impact for generations to come.
If you ever ask any real country music, or music fan in general, they all could notate Keith Whitley as an influence on their music. From the town of Sandy Hook, tucked among the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky, the lonesome soulful sound made Keith Whitley a household name.
Having played with Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, J.D. Crowe, and later with his own Kentucky Thunder, he was one of the finest singers, songwriters, and guitar pickers. His songs went straight to the heart and soul of the listener.
Yet, the person who was just taking off in his career would leave us at the young age of 34 in 1989. He was found lying in his bed on the morning of May 9th. The Davidson County Medical Examiner determined the cause of death was alcohol poisoning. Whitley was just a few months shy of his 35th birthday. He would be buried in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville, Tenn.
Keith Whitley was a husband to Lorrie Morgan and father to Jesse Keith Whitley. His son continues to pass on that tradition of his music. In 2012, he accepted the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame induction in memory of his father.
When you ask someone to name their favorite Keith Whitley song, they all agree that you cannot pick just one. You feel the heartache in “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” You feel the good feeling of goodbye with “I’m Over You.” You feel the love in “When You Say Nothing At All” and “Would These Arms Be In Your Way.” You feel the friendship with “Brotherly Love” and “Homecoming ’63.” There are a ton of hits over the years and even undiscovered hits later discovered.
Tonight in Sandy Hook, fans, friends, and family members will be honoring Keith Whitley with their Homecoming Celebration. The concert kicks off at 7:00 pm at the Lakeside Elementary School.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.