The Musical Legacy Keith Left Behind
All too often in the music world, a talented artist leaves us far before their time. However, although they may be gone, the music they leave behind allows their legacy to prosper for new generations.
On May 9, 1989, country music lost one of its brightest stars…Keith Whitley. Over the course of his career, which was just short of two decades, Whitley touched country fans around the world with beautiful songs such as “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and “When You Say Nothing At All.”
Even now, decades after Whitley’s passing, he continues to serve as an influence to a new generation of country artists. Through their voices and the stunning music he left behind, Whitley continues to live on.
In honor of Whitley’s outstanding talent and music, we’ve complied a list of five of his most touching songs.
5. “I’m No Stranger To The Rain”
Released in January 1959 off of the album Don’t Close Your Eyes, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” was the last single released before Whitley passed away. As a result, the song ended up skyrocketing to the top of the country charts in both the U.S. and Canada.
The narrator of the song conveys the fact that he’s had a rough life, but he’s grown used to it over time. As a result, he feels confident he’ll be able to make it through his current hardships and find some happiness in life, as he sings “I’m no stranger to the rain. But there’ll always be tomorrow. And I’ll beg, steal, or borrow a little sunshine. And I’ll put this cloud behind me.”
Taking into consideration that “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” was the last single Whitley released before he passed away, it adds a whole new level of haunting emotion to the song.
4. “Tell Lorrie I Love Her”
Following Whitley’s death, a Greatest Hits collection was released of some of his most successful songs. The album also included two new songs from Whitley, including the incredibly personal track “Tell Lorrie I Love Her.”
Whitley wrote and recorded the song at his home for his wife and fellow country star Lorrie Morgan. The original reason he recorded the song was so his friend Curtis Young could sing it during his wedding to Morgan.
The song serves as Whitley’s letter of devotion to Morgan, saying that his dying wish would be to let her know how much she means to him, as he sings “Tell Lorrie I love her, tell Lorrie I need her. And if I leave this whole world, tell her she’s the only girl for me.”
3. “‘Til A Tear Becomes A Rose”
Yet another posthumously released song of Whitley’s, “‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose” was the second new track included on his Greatest Hits album. The song was also the only single released from the album, and ended up peaking at the 14th spot on the Billboard country charts.
Whitley recorded the song as a duet with Morgan, which was their first together. The song ended up earning the couple the award for Vocal Event of the Year at the CMA Awards, which was an emotional moment for Morgan.
Coincidentally, the song seems to serve as Whitley’s message to Morgan to keep going even after he’s gone. Serving as the narrator, Whitley witnesses his love suffering through pain, and so he tries to comfort her with his touching words, singing “In your heart I know a sorrow grows. But if you weep I’ll be right here to hold you.’Til each tear you cry becomes a rose.”
2. “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
A number one single for Whitley, “Don’t Close Your Eyes” has since sold over 300,000 digital copies alone. Released as the third single off of Whitley’s final album, Billboard also named it as the number one country song for the entire year of 1988.
As to be expected, due to the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” it has gone on to be regarded as one of Whitley’s signature songs.
The narrator sings to his love, as he worries that she is still thinking about her former flame. He encourages her to do her best to forget about the past and focus only on him, as he sings “Don’t close your eyes. Let it be me. Don’t pretend it’s him, in some fantasy.”
1. “When You Say Nothing At All”
Whitley’s most memorable song, “When You Say Nothing At All,” was released as the fourth single off of Don’t Close Your Eyes. Like the album’s title track, “When You Say Nothing At All” hit number one on the Billboard country charts, and stayed there for two weeks at the end of 1988.
Today, Whitley’s version of the song is regarded as one of the greatest country love songs of all time. CMT further supported this when they placed the song in the 12th spot on their 100 Greatest Love Songs list in 2004.
Many other artists have recorded the song over the years, including Alison Krauss, but no version is more beloved than Whitley’s. The way he delivers the lyrics with his soft, almost whisper-like voice comes across so sweet and sincere, as he sings “A touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall. Now you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”
A great talent was lost on the day that Whitley passed away, but he will always be remembered through his beautiful songs such as these five, and many, many more.