Sen. Rand Paul Endorses Keith Whitley for Country Hall of Fame

The junior United States Senator from Kentucky is throwing his weight behind the effort to induct fellow Kentuckian Keith Whitley into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It adds even more name recognition behind the push by many to get the country legend whose career was tragically cut short into one of country music’s most cherished institutions.

“I’ve always enjoyed country music, especially when that music is authored by Kentuckians,” Sen. Paul said in a statement. “Recently, I joined my fellow Kentuckians in supporting Elliott County native, Keith Whitley to be inducted in to the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

Keith Whitley started in country music as a member of Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass band, and later joined J.D. Crowe and his band The New South. In 1988, Whitley had two #1 singles “When You Say Nothing At All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” off the album Don’t Close Your Eyes, and was expected to become a superstar in country music in the coming years. To many country music historians, Keith Whitley’s style and success set the table for the rise of the “Class of ’89” where Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Travis Tritt took country music to popular heights not seen previously.

However on May 9th, 1989, Keith Whitley died of alcohol poisoning, and never got to reap the rewards of the career he’d worked to build. He was 33-years-old. Garth Brooks specifically named Whitley as someone he believed should have been inducted before him when Garth was recognized by the Country Hall of Fame in 2012.

“He made a giant impact on the music industry, mainly for his love of country music,” Sen. Rand Paul continued in his statement. “Many well-known artists like Garth Brooks look to him as one to follow in the footsteps of as they began their country music journey. Keith Whitley was not just a singer that left country music too soon. He is a true artist whose music is still loved and being shared today. Keith Whitley should be put in his rightful, well-earned and deserved place in The Country Music Hall of Fame.”

To get into the Hall of Fame, you don’t just need a good resume, you need a good, dedicated push and a promotional campaign that can get the attention of the right people on the CMA committee who ultimately make the decision. That is what fans of Keith Whitley, as well as his widow Lorrie Morgan and his son Jesse Keith Whitley have been attempting to do, including an online petition with nearly 10,000 signatures. Adding a United States Senator to the mix can only help.

In 2019, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum launched an exhibit called “Still Rings True: The Enduring Voice of Keith Whitley” in honor of the late singer. Whitley has also been rumored to be one of the “final ballot” names for Hall of Fame induction over the last few years in the Modern Era category.

Each year the Hall of Fame inducts three new member in three distinct categories: Modern Era, Veterans Era, and Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician. This austere system has resulted in a backlog of deserving artists (read Hall of Fame rules).

Some have made the point that with the truncated career of Keith Whitley, others deserve the honor more than him. But as big names such as Garth Brooks and Sen. Rand Paul attest, it’s the influence Keith Whitley left behind, considerations for his early career in bluegrass as well, and where his career could have gone if he hadn’t died so young that makes him a deserved Hall of Famer.

The new class of Hall of Fame inductees will likely not be announced until the middle of 2022.

The life and death of Keith Whitley was explored in depth in the 5th Episode of the Country History X Podcast.

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