In a loving and revealing ninety-minute program, family members and business associates of the late Keith Whitley discuss his special talent, his charismatic but troubled personality, his rise to fame, and his untimely death.
Whitley’s widow, country star Lorrie Morgan, joins former RCA Records president Joe Galante and record producer Garth Fundis to reflect on the soulful singer’s enduring impact on generations of country music artists. Hosted by Museum staffer Michael McCall and presented during the 2019 CMA Music Festival, the program closes with performances by Morgan and her son, Jesse Keith Whitley, accompanied by guitarist Ethan Ellis.
The conversation focuses on Whitley’s years in Nashville, in the 1980s. Galante explains why he signed the Kentucky singer to RCA Records, and he and Fundis detail the turning point in Whitley’s career, when the singer asked RCA to shelve his second full-length album and, at great expense, let him start over with a new producer. Galante agreed, allowing Whitley to record a more traditional-sounding album with Fundis, who was best-known as the producer of albums by Don Williams. Their first collaboration, the 1988 album “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” gave Whitley three #1 country hits (“When You Say Nothing at All,” “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” and the title song). In retrospect, that collection of songs made Whitley one of the most influential artists of his generation.
Morgan, sometimes fighting with her emotions, speaks of her late husband’s talent, his engaging smile and belly laughs, his playful and humble personality, and his struggles with alcoholism and addiction. “I never saw Keith take a drink—ever, never,” she says. “All of a sudden, he’d be drunk or passed out. He wasn’t a social butterfly who wanted to go out with everybody and drink. Most of the time he didn’t want to be around people who were drinking.”
Presented in support of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibition “Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley” (May 3, 2019, through September 18, 2020).
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