Keith Whitley's life and career were tragically cut short, but his music has left a lasting impact on country music. The Kentucky native became close friends with another future country star, Ricky Skaggs, at an early age. The pair were just teenagers when their talents were discovered by bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, who quickly recruited them to join his band, The Clinch Mountain Boys.
Just a few years later, Whitley moved to Nashville with the hopes of becoming a successful solo artist. When he released his 1984 EP A Hard Act to Follow, Whitley was still trying to hone his own trademark sound. It wasn't until the release of his first full-length studio album L.A. to Miami in 1985 when Whitley made his first mark on the country music scene.
Over the next four years, 12 of Whitley's singles found success on the country music charts. His second studio album Don't Close Your Eyes provided three No. 1 hits for Whitley, including the album's title track, "I'm No Stranger to the Rain" and "When You Say Nothing at All." That rapid-fire success earned Whitley both a CMA Award and a Grammy Award nomination, positioning as one of country music's most impressive and successful new artists.
That wave of success came to a shocking end on May 9, 1989, when Whitley was found unresponsive in his Goodlettsvillle, Tenn. home. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy determined his cause of death was from alcohol poisoning. He was 33.
Whitley's wife and fellow country star Lorrie Morgan, along with their son Jesse Keith Whitley, have helped to keep Keith's memory alive through yearly birthday celebrations and memorial concerts. In the years following his death, many of the songs Whitley penned but never recorded got a second chance from country artists eager to cut their own versions of his work.
With today's announcement that Whitley has been selected as one of the 2022 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees, it's the perfect time to reflect on some of the singer-songwriter's incredible accomplishments.
In the list below, you'll hear 5 songs that were written by Keith Whitley and made famous by other country artists.
"I Love You Enough To Let You Go"Recorded by Chely Wright
Penned by Whitley, Gary Nicholson and Bill Caswell, "I Love You Enough To Let You Go" was recorded by Chely Wright for her 1994 debut studio album Woman in the Moon. The heartbreaking tune finds Wright grappling with the decision to let go of the one she loves, while still holding onto hope that they'll come back to her one day.
"Hopelessly Yours"Recorded by Suzy Bogguss and Lee Greenwood, John Conlee, George Jones + More
Whitley teamed up with Don Cook and Curly Putman to write "Hopelessly Yours," which was originally recorded by George Jones for his 1986 record Wine Colored Roses. In 1989, John Conlee released it as a single from his record Fellow Travelers and found moderate success on the country charts. Two years later, it would be come a major hit for Suzy Bogguss and Lee Greenwood, whose duet version hit No. 12 on the Billboard country charts and earned the pair a Grammy nomination for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
"There's a New Kid in Town"Recorded by George Strait, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton + More
Recorded by George Strait for his 1986 holiday album Merry Christmas Strait to You, "There's a New Kid in Town" has become one of country music's most recognizable Christmas tunes. Whitley released his own version of the song, but also recorded a duet version with Alan Jackson that was included on his 1993 LP Honky Tonk Christmas. In 2016, Jackson released a new duet version of the song with Chris Young. Other artists who have covered the track include Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Blake Shelton, Kenny Rogers, Kathy Mattea and The Oak Ridge Boys.
"Light at the End of the Tunnel"Recorded by John Anderson
John Anderson recorded "Light at the End of the Tunnel," which was penned by Whitley and Don Cook, for his 1988 album 10. Seven years later, Whitley's own demo tape of the song was transformed into a fully produced version for Wherever You Are Tonight, the second posthumous album of his career.
"She Never Got Me Over You"Recorded by Mark Chesnutt
Co-written by Whitley, Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon, "She Never Got Me Over You" was the final song Whitley penned before his death in 1989. It wasn't shared publicly until 2007, when Cochran offered the song to Mark Chesnutt. He recorded the track for his 2008 record Rollin' With The Flow.