On This Day: Keith Whitley Scores Final No. 1 During His Lifetime With ‘I’m No Stranger to the Rain’ in 1989

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Keith Whitley reached No. 1 with “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” on April 8, 1989, one month before his tragic death.

Keith Whitley’s star burned brightest during the year before he died on May 9, 1989. The 34-year-old Kentucky native scored his first No. 1 single with “Don’t Close Your Eyes” in August 1988. He followed up with his second No. 1 single, “When You Say Nothing at All,” in December 1988.

In January 1989, Keith released “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.” With its reference to pain, the song proved to be tragically poetic.

Keeper of the Flame

As a teen and into his 20s, Keith earned his chops playing guitar—and eventually singing—alongside Ricky Skaggs in Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass band in the 1970s. In 1983, Keith took the plunge, moved to Nashville, and began singing demos.

In 1984, he signed to RCA Nashville, but his first three singles flopped on the charts. However, with the release of “Miami, My Amy” in 1986, Keith had scored his first Top 20 hit. He backed that up with Top 10 singles “Ten Feet Away,” “Homecoming ’63,” and “Hard Livin’.”

With his once-in-a-lifetime voice, Keith was being hailed as one of the new keepers of the traditionalist flame.

His 1988 sophomore studio album, Don’t Close Your Eyes, featured the No. 1 title track, “When You Say Nothing at All,” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.”

Keith released “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” in January 1989. On April 8, the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Keith had scored his third consecutive No. 1 single.

Remembering Keith

However, one month after Keith topped the charts with “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” he died in his home from alcohol poisoning on May 9, 1989. Country music lost one of its brightest stars.

In October 1989 at the CMA Awards, Keith was honored posthumously as “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” was named Single of the Year. Keith’s widow, Lorrie Morgan, accepted on his behalf.

“I appreciate this so much,” she said. “Five months to this day, I lost the greatest husband in the world. Country music, in my eyes, lost the world’s greatest singer.”

After his death, Keith’s singles “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It’s Ain’t Nothin'” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.