Keith Whitley was officially inducted as the 149th member of the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday evening (Oct. 16) during the star-studded Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater.
Whitley was included in the Modern Era Artist category and was honored with performances by Mickey Guyton (“When You Say Nothing At All”), Ricky Skaggs, Molly Tuttle, and Justin Moses (“Tennessee Blues”), and Garth Brooks (“Don’t Close Your Eyes”).
In addition to the musical tribute to Whitley, Brooks took part in the Medallion presentation where he became emotional during his tribute to Whitley.
“For all country music fans, this night is long overdue,” Brooks said as his emotions ran high.
“My father always said this… Everything that is a blessing is a curse, and everything that is a curse is a blessing,” Brooks said as he went on to reflect on criticism Whitley once received. “The fact that Keith Whitley was ‘too country’ was a blessing for us, (but) it was probably a curse for Keith. I’d heard Keith would be the last guy that thinks he belongs in here. For me… You pick five names of why the Hall of Fame is the place the rest of us wanna get into, one of those five names for me will be Keith Whitley. One of the greatest voices to ever grace country music: Keith Whitley.”
Brooks then admitted that Whitley could “out-sing 99-percent” of artists and shared his love for the song “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”
The “Friends In Low Places” singer concluded his speech by introducing Whitley’s widow, fellow country singer, Lorrie Morgan.
“A woman has to do 1,000 times more than a man to get a tenth as much (in this business). I watched this woman work hard every day, and I can tell you this: We will be celebrating the day that you come in here, as well. But for now, if you [Morgan] wouldn’t mind, would you come welcome the newest member to the Country Music Hall of Fame,” Brooks said.
Morgan then accepted the honor alongside her and Whitley’s kids.
“This is the greatest honor for me to accept this, along with my children, Jesse Keith Whitley (and) Morgan Whitley,” Morgan said emotionally. “We have been through a lot together in remembering Keith and loving Keith and missing Keith. My whole family, we’ve all missed him together.”
Keith Whitley’s country music career was short-lived, as only four years seven months and 10 days passed between his first appearance on the Billboard Country singles charts and his sudden death on May 9, 1989. His music, however, has lived on for decades and continues to impact and influence artists and fans to this day.
Throughout his career, Whitley earned five No.1 singles and had a total of 19 singles on the Billboard country charts.
Whitley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame alongside Joe Galante in the Non-Performer category and Jerry Lee Lewis in the Veterans Era Artist category.
Galante is a well-respected music executive and served as the head of some of Nashville’s top record labels. During his career, he signed artists such as Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Vince Gill, The Judds, Martina McBride, Lorrie Morgan, K.T. Oslin, Carrie Underwood, Keith Whitley, Chris Young, and others.
Lewis, who is the only living member of the million-dollar quartet consisting of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, had 28 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart which spanned across four decades.
The 87-year-old is also a GRAMMY award-winner and a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Lewis’ best-known songs include “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On,” which is now part of the National Recording Registry, and “Great Balls of Fire,” a song that is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.