Paying a Visit to Keith Whitley
Hunting for the gravestones of country legends can be one of the most fulfilling enterprises for dedicated country music fans. It’s a way to get filled with the country music Holy Ghost, and gives you an opportunity to pay your respects to some of the titans who are responsible for the music we all love today.
In this pursuit, one of the easiest and most lucrative stops is the Spring Hill Cemetery on Gallatin Pike in northern Nashville, not too far from the Grand Ole Opry. Right there at the very front of the massive cemetery is the grave of the man who was originally called the King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, right beside the Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells, with husband Johnnie Wright right beside her. Just across the way in a portion of the cemetery dedicated to veterans is Jimmy Martin, also known to many as the King of Bluegrass. That puts a lot of country music royalty all in one place.
That’s not to mention that in the same portion of the Spring Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of one of the Kings of the banjo, Earl Scruggs, along with Hank Snow, who is arguably the most successful Canadian in country music of the classic artists, as well as a memorial to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, with numerous Monroe relatives buried there. Bill himself is buried in Rosine, KY.
But with all the headstone points you can easily rack up visiting Spring Hill with little hunting or effort to undertake, you can almost overlook that much deeper in the cemetery is the final resting place of Keith Whitley. Though I had visited Spring Hill before, I either did not know Keith Whitley was buried there, or maybe it just didn’t mean as much to me as the other country legends, or that it does now that the legacy of Keith Whitley has only grown in importance over time.
This year, Keith Whitley was officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A supplemental little granite plaque was placed just in front of his gravestone to commemorate this achievement. Just like so many country legends, Keith Whitley will eventually be joined by his side by his widow, Lorrie Morgan, who has been instrumental in keeping the legacy of Keith Whitley alive, and specifically to getting him into the Hall of Fame. Their son Jesse Keith Whitley has also been a big part of that movement.
Along these lines, in July an effort was launched to raise funds to build Keith Whitley a proper memorial at the Spring Hill Cemetery, similar to the ones Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, and Bill Monroe enjoy. This is what alerted me to the omission of Keith Whitley on my list of graves visited, and respects paid. And even better, unlike all the easy Spring Hill memorials to locate, Keith Whitley would be more of a challenge to find, which is half the fun of grave hunting.
In truth, it wasn’t as hard as I was hoping it would be to find Keith, not just due to the grave being right near the nexus of three roads in the cemetery that point you right to it, but also due to the fact that in a sea of grey and rose granite headstones in that portion of the cemetery, Keith Whitley’s marker is made of a shimmering white marble, making it stand out in relief.
Standing in the presence of Keith Whitley, what comes to mind is the tragedy that was his life, but the influence that was left in his wake. Unlike the other country legends interred at Spring Hill, Whitley didn’t amass a huge catalog of albums and songs. But what fascinates us about him is that we all know he could have if his life hadn’t been cut short at the age of 34.
Nonetheless, without the work Keith Whitley did do, there may have never been a “Class of ’89” with Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Travis Tritt. This is the reason that when Garth Brooks was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he first tried to cede the honor to Keith Whitley, and later said that if he was in, Whitley should be in too. That’s not to mention the time Whitley did playing with legends like Ralph Stanley and JD Crowe before he became a solo artist.
There are a lot of legends buried at the Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville. Billy Walker and John Hartford also have their final resting places there too—the later I couldn’t find before the sun began to set. But Keith Whitley is the one you shouldn’t forget among all the other towering figures of the Spring Hill garden.
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Keith Whitley’s grave is located at:
Spring Hill Cemetery
5110 Gallatin Pike,
Nashville, Tennessee 37216
As you enter the Spring Hill Cemetery, the bulk of the country music graves are in the very first section ahead of you called “Hill Crest Garden.” Jimmy Martin’s grave is just over your right shoulder (southwest) in the “Veteran’s II” section. The memorials are large, and can’t be missed.
To locate Keith Whitley, pull into Spring Hill from Gallatin Pike, take a left, then take the second right like you’re going to the cemetery office. Follow this path past the Masonic section on your left (clearly marked), until the road dead ends into another road. Right in front of you where the road dead ends is the “Crestview” section of the cemetery where Keith Whitley is (see image below). There is a large tree, and he is just to the right of it. It is the only white headstone in the area.
November 14, 2022 @ 11:23 am
Good stuff. Otis Gibbs talks quite a bit about visiting cemeteries on his podcast.
November 14, 2022 @ 2:06 pm
Otis Gibbs is my favorite country music historian. Keep meaning to feature what he’s doing now with the videos and such. His “Thanks For Giving A Damn” podcast back in the day was a must listen.
Dan Da Hootenanny
November 14, 2022 @ 12:39 pm
That same cemetery is also the final resting place of John Hartford. His gravestone is next to a gazebo that was installed so musicians can sit down and play music.
November 14, 2022 @ 1:09 pm
Add that to my bucket list. Few years back, I was able to pay my respects to Townes VanZandt. He is in Dido Cemetery just outside Fort Worth. Next, think it will be Billy Joe Shaver, then maybe Doug Sahm. As a historian, I love cemeteries.
November 14, 2022 @ 1:14 pm
I stop by Keith’s and Lefty’s grave(Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens) each time I visit Nashville. I was lucky enough to be invited inside Keith’s house in Goodlettsville a few years back. Someone was sleeping in the room he passed away in, so I didn’t get to see that. Still was still one of my favorite days. The sweet lady that lived at the home told me stories of many famous musicians and friends that had stopped by to see the home and pay respects.
November 14, 2022 @ 3:15 pm
Thanks for the story.
Last Spring, I had the chance to visit Patsy Cline’s grave in Winchester, VA. I put on “Sweet Dreams” and it was quite a moving moment!
November 15, 2022 @ 3:16 pm
I got to drive by the home there where Patsy was raised, but it was closed for renovations, so we were a little disappointed.
I still haven’t stopped by the site of her plane crash, and the memorial there, in Camden, TN.
November 14, 2022 @ 5:35 pm
Fantastic post. Thank you!
November 14, 2022 @ 5:38 pm
Several rows in front of Keith’s gravesite is country star, George Morgan, Lorrie’s father. In fact, one can look straight ahead and see Keith’ stone. It’s a tall white stone.
November 14, 2022 @ 7:10 pm
Sorry, but “In loving memory of 2022 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee Keith Whitley” is a cheesy thing to write on a tombstone.
And it even oddly diminishes the man, by making that honor into the thing that “validates” him. I mean, could you imagine a tombstone etched with “In memory of 1994 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee Merle Haggard.”
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
November 15, 2022 @ 9:53 am
In Loving Memory of 2008 ACM Country Album of the Year Nominee Lucky Old Sun.
November 15, 2022 @ 12:11 pm
Like Beverly mentioned below, this wasn’t written on his tombstone. It was written on a black piece of granite about the size of a piece of Texas toast that is like a supplemental to the tombstone, and will go away (along with Keith’s wrong birth date) when they place the new memorial there that’s in process.
November 15, 2022 @ 1:53 pm
November 14, 2022 @ 9:12 pm
If you want a real challenge.. it’s fairly hard to find the grave of Eddie Rabbitt. But I love going down there. One morning when I was there, still a bit fog they held a funeral on top of the hill. During the ceremony they played Amazing Grace in bag pipes.
November 15, 2022 @ 9:07 am
Eddie Rabbitt is definitely on my list of ones to find.
November 14, 2022 @ 9:15 pm
Luckyoldsun, that is not Keith’s headstone that says that. That is a granite plaque I had made for him to congratulate him on finally getting into the country music hall of fame.
As a fan and a friend of his sons, I seen nothing cheesy about having a plaque made for him. It was well deserved and long overdue and I was more than happy to show my appreciation for all the beautiful music he gave us.
November 15, 2022 @ 8:32 am
Very cool. Keith had one of my favorite voices in country history. His voice was somehow both powerful yet soft/graceful at the same time, and you could always feel the emotion in his songs. Just an all-around seemingly effortless quality to his singing.
November 15, 2022 @ 1:33 pm
I think if he had of lived he would have had an untouchable career He had the Haggard and Lefty sound in his voice
Along with the soul and emotion He was something else for sure 🙏♥️
November 15, 2022 @ 9:51 am
I always found it strange that his gravestone has his birth year as 1955. I believe is was actually born in 1954. Any idea why this is the case?
November 15, 2022 @ 11:06 am
Hey BO76, Keith’s record label RCA provided the incorrect date for the headstone. You are correct, Keith was born in 1954. I assume RCA paid for the headstone . I know RCA president Joe Galante personally paid for his coffin. His birth certificate, passport and drivers license all verify 1954 as correct year.
November 15, 2022 @ 12:12 pm
Yes, I addressed this in the Country History X episode I did on Keith Whitley. When they put up the new memorial to him (hopefully), they will correct this.
November 18, 2022 @ 4:23 pm
Mr Whitley was one of the best singers of all times I think of him often he is missed
November 15, 2022 @ 10:34 am
My wife and I visited many cemeteries in and around Nashville about 10 years ago . The one that stuck with me the most was the gravesite of Stringbean and his wife Estelle .
The people at the cemetery offices usually give out info of who and where the music stars are buried .
Southern Man, Country Fan, and Stuck Somewhere Else
November 15, 2022 @ 12:49 pm
I love Keith’s vocals and music so much. His early death was/is such a profound loss to country music.
If I did not have Cerebral Palsy, and were physically able to drive, I probably would have done more than a few road trips, myself, to visit his grave and the graves of other country giants. I’m pretty much a “heart on sleeve” kind of man, so I would probably be shedding a few tears while visiting said graves, as the great, traditional, country artists and their songs have spoken to me, and helped me through so much, at so many times of my life. However, I think Keith would understand if this Southern man and country fan cried a bit at his grave.
Thanks be to God for this man’s great voice and music, and the ways that they still speak to people today. You are much-missed, Keith.
November 15, 2022 @ 3:25 pm
Thanks for undertaking this effort and sharing this, Trigger.
As I have mentioned before, Keith’s death really resonated, in a very somber and serious sort of way with me, because he died of alcoholism-related issues very shortly after I got sober.
My favorite artist of any type or stripe is Ernest Hemingway. I have read countless books both by and about him.
My wife and I were at a wedding in Montana ~12 or so years ago, and we drove over to Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho to see his final home. It turned out to be located in a gated community, so it is not accessible to visitors and fans. But I did get a cool picture of me, as a student of Papa’s, squatting/kneeling in a reverent manner in front of their graves. I almost tear up looking at the picture and thinking about his impact on my life.
David: The Duke of Everything
November 15, 2022 @ 3:40 pm
I like visiting cemeteries but it’s not really famous people that I care to go find. They have visitors all the time. It’s the regular folk that need some remembrance so while you are checking out a celebrities grave, stop by a few regular people’s and ponder their life story.
November 16, 2022 @ 10:57 am
I would have loved to visit his grave I did visit John and June’s grave.
November 16, 2022 @ 1:31 pm
I remember several years ago I was in Memphis and visited Graceland for the first time and of course it was crowded. On the way back I had to go through Nashville and stopped at Johnny and June’s grave and it was such a contrast. Was there for about 30 minutes and no one was there besides me and the residents of the cemetery but I cherished every minute of it
November 16, 2022 @ 4:19 pm
I’ve been to Keith’s gravesite several times over the years while visiting for Fan Fair. I also visited Ernest Tubb’s gravesite in 1985 and was stunned to see no marker or indicator. An employee at his Music Valley Drive record shop told me the cemetery where he was buried and told me to contact a woman at the cemetery office and she would be happy to take me to his gravesite because there was no marker yet due to a family disagreement. He was my all-time favorite and I saw him perform many times.
Stanley H. Powell
November 23, 2022 @ 5:36 am
As a funeral director for well over 50 years, I have a full appreciation of all cemeteries. Each stone/marker represents a life lived, whether good, bad, or indifferent. That life, most likely at some point was loved at least by someone. We have those who were able to leave an indelible mark on our lives and for this we are blessed. I have visited all cemeteries in Nashville, being a former resident. I feel sure some of the more notable graveside I have missed. Spring Hill and Woodlawn on Thompson Lane are very awesome, as well as Forest Lawn on Dickerson Road and Hendersonville Memorial Gardens in Hendersonville, TN. I never tire of seeing them over and over. I was fortunate to attend many of those funerals. Thanks to whom ever posted these grave markers in Spring Hill. Would love to see a list of those whom are buried or in mausoleums across Nashville and other great cities. Thank You.