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Keith Whitley Biography

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Jackie Keith Whitley (b. July 1, 1954 in Sandy Hook, Kentucky d. May 9, 1989) was an American country music singer.

Whitley learned to play a guitar at a very young age, and became involved with a regional television show when he was eight years old. He and his friend Ricky Skaggs formed a bluegrass band, which landed both of them their first break in 1970 when they joined Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys. Whitley was singing lead for the band by 1974.

In 1978, he joined J. D. Crowe and the New South as lead vocalist and guitarist. Critics were by then praising his very twangy country vocals, and these reviews eventually caught the attention of RCA Records, who would sign him to a contract in 1984.

Whitley's first solo album, A Hard Act to Follow, was released in 1984. However, the songs off of the album didn't get much airplay. Critics regarded the album as too erratic; while Whitley was working hard to achieve his own style, the songs he produced were inconsistent.

Whitley took this criticism as proof that he wasn't mainstream country, and produced a more "mainstream" album, L.A. to Miami, released in 1986. This album would give him his first Top 20 country hit single, "Miami, My Amy." The album would produce two more Top 20 hits.

During his tour to promote L.A. to Miami, he met and started dating Lorrie Morgan, a fellow country singer. The pair were married in November, 1986, and they had their only son, Jesse Keith Whitley, in 1987.

Whitley scrapped an entire album's worth of songs when he wasn't satisfied with the album's style. RCA permitted him to record another album that he was more comfortable with; the resulting album, Don't Close Your Eyes, released in 1988, was the most memorable of the albums released during his life. The first three singles off of the album -- the title track, "When You Say Nothing at All," and "I'm No Stranger to the Rain" -- all reached number 1 on Billboard Magazine's country charts during the fall of 1988 and the winter of 1989.

Keith Whitley was a longtime alcoholic, who had begun drinking early in his career -- long before he was legally allowed to drink alcohol. Many times he had tried to cure his alcoholism, but these methods had failed, even though Whitley claimed to have conquered his drinking. Whitley preferred to drink alone, making it tough for anyone to detect he had been drinking.

Whitley's alcoholism directly led to his death on May 9, 1989 at age 34. He was found dead in his home near Nashville; an autopsy revealed that the cause of his death was alcohol poisoning.

He was discovered to have more than five times Tennessee's legal driving limit of alcohol in his bloodstream at the time of his death.

Although Whitley's voice was silenced, his influence on country music has persisted long after his death. At the time of his death, he had just finished making his fourth and final studio album, I Wonder Do You Think of Me. That album was released three months after his death, on August 1, 1989. The album produced two more #1 hits with the title track and "It Ain't Nothin'", penned by Louisiana's Le Roux guitarist Tony Haselden. It helped cement his legend for both his fans and his friends in country music.

In 1991, RCA released a compilation of old performance clips (from his days in the Clinch Mountain Boys and the New South), interviews, and some previously unreleased material under the title Kentucky Bluebird, a moniker that became Whitley's nickname.

In 1994, Whitley's widow, Lorrie Morgan, organized several of Whitley's friends in bluegrass and some of the big names in country at the time to record a tribute album to Whitley. The album included covers of Whitley's songs from artists such as Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, and Ricky Skaggs. The album also included several previously unreleased tracks recorded by Whitley, as well as a duet with Morgan which was recorded using splicing technology similar to other "across-time" duets, such as Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr's "Tear in My Beer" and Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole's rendition of "Unforgettable".

However, the hit single to come from the tribute album was Alison Krauss & Union Station's rendition of "When You Say Nothing at All", which rose to #3 on the Billboard country charts.

A song tribute to Whitley written by Vince Gill, "Go Rest High on that Mountain", won two Grammy Awards for Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song in 1996. Another country artisit, Garth Brooks, also paid tribute to Whitley in his music video for The Dance.

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