Keith Whitley’s Career Illuminated In New Country Music Hall Of Fame Exhibit

Keith Whitley’s brief life and legendary career will be the focus of a new Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum exhibition “Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley,” opening May 3, 2019. 

Whitley completed only four solo studio albums before his death in 1989, at age 33, but despite the brevity of his career, he produced many significant country hits, and his music continues to exert tremendous influence on subsequent generations of country singers. Many of the groundbreaking artists who expanded country music’s audience in the 1990s—including Country Music Hall of Fame member ­Garth Brooks, Country Music Hall of Fame member Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss and Tim McGraw cite Whitley as a primary influence. His impact continues into the new century, through the work of acolytes Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Chris Young and others.

Items featured in “Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley” include stage wear, significant instruments and personal artifacts representative of Whitley’s childhood and music career. Some highlights include:

  • A Sony TC-540 reel-to-reel tape recorder with detachable speakers, used by Elmer Whitley to record the Lonesome Mountain Boys, a bluegrass group featuring his sons Dwight and Keith (recordings were broadcast weekly on radio station WLKS)
  • A Dangerous Threads bolero jacket worn by Whitley at one of his final public performances in March 1989
  • A 1980 C.W. Parsons & Co. acoustic guitar with walnut finish used extensively by Whitley
  • Original draft of Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Schlitz’shandwritten lyrics to “When You Say Nothing at All,” a #1 hit for Whitley in 1988 (co-written with Paul Overstreet)
  • Whitley’s handwritten lyrics to “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” and “Wherever You Are Tonight” (which appear on his posthumous, 1995 album Wherever You Are Tonight)

“Whitley’s haunting and emotional voice represented the resurgence of the traditional sound on mainstream country radio,” said Kyle Young, CEO, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “His bluegrass roots and love for honky-tonk music led to his unique, drawling style that continues to inspire and influence today’s country music artists. We are honored to examine the indelible impact of Whitley’s brief but significant career.”


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About the Author

Hollabaugh, a staff writer at MusicRow magazine, has written for publications including American Profile, CMA Close Up, Nashville Arts And Entertainment, The Boot and Country Weekly. She has a Broadcast Journalism and Speech Communication degree from Texas Christian University, (go Horned Frogs), and welcomes your feedback or story ideas at [email protected]

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