Garth Brooks & Lorrie Morgan Deliver Emotional Tributes To Keith Whitley

Photo: Getty Images

Lorrie Morgan took the stage in the CMA Theater to deliver a powerful tribute to her late husband Keith Whitley, beloved singer-songwriter who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday evening (October 16).

“I’ve thought about this all day today and there are no words,” Morgan said, reflecting on everything she thought Whitley would feel on the night of the Medallion Ceremony. Whitley grew up in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, and went on to record dozens of hit songs — including five consecutive No. 1 hits — throughout his career. Whitley died in 1989 at age 34, leaving behind Morgan, who attended the Medallion Ceremony with her children and other friends and family.

Morgan took a moment to thank several people by name, including one person whom she credits as the reason she heard Whitley on the radio for the first time. She was on her way to perform at the. Grand Ole Opry when she heard Whitley’s song, “Miami, My Amy,” and it stopped her in her tracks:

“I was on my way to sing a Saturday night Opry, and I heard this song come on the radio, and this voice sang ‘Miami, My Amy.’ And I pulled my car off of Briley Parkway and I sat there and I thought, ‘I’m in love with that man.’ I didn’t know who it was at the time, and right when he was done singing, Keith Bilbrey said, ‘that is the great Keith Whitley with No. 15 in the nation this week with ‘Miami, My Amy,’ and he’s coming up on the 8:30 spot at the Grand Ole Opry.’ And I floored my car. I said, ‘I am gonna get a chance to meet this man tonight,’ and I did and he asked me out that night, and of course the rest is history…”

Though Whitley didn’t know it, he was only three weeks away from becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry when he died, Morgan recalled. She said he would have “never suspected” his Country Music Hall of Fame induction.

“This is the greatest honor for me to accept this, along with my children, Jesse Keith Whitley (and) Morgan Whitley,” Morgan continued in her emotional speech. She also thanked Whitley’s fans, and acknowledged Whitley’s norther, Dwight, among others. “We have been through a lot together in remembering Keith and loving Keith and missing Keith. My whole family, we’ve all missed him together.”

Garth Brooks spoke highly of Whitley as he presented Whitley’s medallion to Morgan and performed “Don’t Close Your Eyes” in his honor. Brooks said, for Whitley and for fans of country music, “this night is long overdue.”

Class of 2022 Medallion Ceremony

Photo: Getty Images

“My father always said this… Everything that is a blessing is a curse, and everything that is a curse is a blessing,” Brooks said, going on to reference feedback Whitley once received in his career. “The fact that Keith Whitley was ‘too country’ was a blessing for us, (but) it was probably a curse for Keith. I’d heard Keith would be the last guy that thinks he belongs in here. For me… You pick five names of why the Hall of Fame is the place the rest of us wanna get into, one of those five names for me will be Keith Whitley. One of the greatest voices to ever grace country music: Keith Whitley.”

Whitley had a gift for setting “actual life” to music, Brooks said. “The guy could out-sing 99% of us. If you ever hear ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ — I’m in love with my wife (Trisha Yearwood), and my wife has me convinced that she loves me. But when Keith Whitley does that ‘ca-use,’ when he drops that whole octave, that woman cannot remember my name.

Kix (Brooks) said it best when people said, ‘it’s the people before you that make you wanna do what you wanna do.’ I always wanted to sing like Keith, and as long as I get to get up every morning, I got another shot at it. I don’t mind failing every day,” Brooks continued. “But tomorrow when I get up, I’m gonna try it again.”

Brooks capped off his speech by introducing Morgan to the stage, and making a confident prediction for her: “…a woman has to do 1,000 times more than a man to get a tenth as much (in this business). I watched this woman work hard every day, and I can tell you this: We will be celebrating the day that you come in here, as well. But for now, if you [Morgan] wouldn’t mind, would you come welcome the newest member to the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

Whitley was inducted along with Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Galante. See other memorable moments from the ceremony here.

Class of 2022 Medallion Ceremony

Photo: Getty Images