Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr. (January 20, 1923 – June 19, 2013), known professionally as Slim Whitman, was an American country music and western music singer/songwriter and instrumentalist known for his yodeling abilities and his smooth high octave falsetto. He sold in excess of 120 million records.
He was consistently more popular throughout Europe, and in particular Britain, than in his native America, especially with his covers of pop standards, movie songs, love songs, folk tunes and gospel melodic hymns. His 1955 hit single "Rose Marie" held the Guinness World Record for the longest time at number 1 on the UK Singles Chart for 36 years until Bryan Adams broke the record in 1991. In the US his "Indian Love Call" (1952) and "Secret Love" (1953) both reached number 2 on the Billboard country chart. Whitman had a string of hits from the mid-1960s and into the 1970s and became known to a new generation of fans through television direct marketing in the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, he continued to tour extensively around the world and release new material, and he was featured on the soundtrack of the 1996 film Mars Attacks!. His last album, Twilight on the Trail, was released in 2010.
Whitman was born in Tampa, Florida, as Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr. on January 20, 1923. Growing up, he liked the country music of Jimmie Rodgers and songs of Gene Autry, but he did not embark on a musical career of his own until the end of World War II, after he had served in the South Pacific with the United States Navy.
Whitman, a self-taught left-handed guitarist, was right-handed, but he had lost almost all of the second finger on his left hand in an accident. He worked at a Tampa shipyard while developing a musical career, eventually performing with a band known as the Variety Rhythm Boys. Whitman's first big break came when talent manager "Colonel" Thomas Parker heard him singing on the radio and offered to represent him. Signed with RCA Records, he was billed as "the cowboy singer Slim Whitman" and released his first single in 1948. He toured and sang at a variety of venues, including on the radio show Louisiana Hayride.
At first, he was not able to make a living from music and kept a part-time job. That changed in the early 1950s after he recorded a version of the Bob Nolan hit Love Song of the Waterfall, which made it into the country music top 10. His next single, "Indian Love Call," was even more successful, reaching number 2 in the country music charts and appearing in the pop music charts top ten in the US.
A yodeller, Whitman avoided the "down on yer luck buried in booze" songs, preferring instead to sing laid-back romantic melodies about simple life and love. Critics dubbed his style "countrypolitan," owing to its fusion of country music and a more sophisticated crooning vocal style. Although he recorded many western tunes, love and romance songs figured prominently in his repertoire.
In 1955 in the United Kingdom, he had a No.1 hit on the pop music charts with "Rose Marie." With 19 weeks in the chart and 11 weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart, the song set a record that lasted for 36 years. In 1956 he became the first ever country music singer to perform at the London Palladium. Soon after, Whitman was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, and in 1957, along with other musical stars, he appeared in the film musical Jamboree. Despite this exposure, he never achieved the level of stardom in the United States that he did in Britain, where he had a number of other hits during the 1950s. Throughout the early 1970s, he continued to record and was a guest on Wolfman Jack's television show The Midnight Special. At the time, Whitman's recording efforts were yielding only minor hits.
In 1979, Whitman produced a TV commercial to support Suffolk Marketing's release of a greatest hits compilation titled All My Best, which went on to be the best-selling TV-marketed record in music history, with almost 1.5 million units sold. Just For You (also under the Suffolk umbrella), followed in 1980, with a commercial that claimed Whitman "was number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles." The Best followed in 1982, with Whitman concluding his TV marketing with Best Loved Favorites in 1989 and 20 Precious Memories in 1991.
The TV albums made Whitman (briefly) a household name in America for the first time in his career, resulting in everything from a first-time appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson to Whitman being spoofed in a comic skit on SCTV with him (played by Joe Flaherty) starring in the Che-like male lead in an Evita-like Broadway musical on the life of Indira Gandhi. More importantly, the TV albums gave him a brief resurgence in mainstream country music with new album releases on major labels and a few new singles making the country chart. During this time he toured Europe and Australia with moderate success.
In late January 2008, a false rumor of his death spread through the internet, believed to have been started by an erroneous report posted on the Web site of the Nashville Tennessean newspaper. Country singer George Hamilton IV even dedicated and sang a hymn in Whitman's honor at a concert appearance.
In 2010, Whitman released the album, Twilight on the Trail, his first new studio LP in 26 years.
After 1957 Whitman lived at Woodpecker Paradise, in Middleburg, Florida, a city located south of Orange Park, Florida in Clay County.
Whitman's wife of 67 years, Alma "Jerry" Crist Whitman, was a songwriter and embroiderer as well as the daughter of a church minister. She died in 2009 as a result of kidney failure. They had a daughter Sharon, and a son Byron K. Whitman, who is also a performer and who toured and recorded with Whitman on numerous occasions.
Slim Whitman died of heart failure on June 19, 2013 surrounded by family at Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park, Florida. He was 90.
For his contribution to the recording industry, Slim Whitman was given the accolade of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1709 Vine Street. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's Walkway of Stars in 1968.
The late pop singer Michael Jackson cited Whitman as one of his ten favorite vocalists. Beatle George Harrison cited Whitman as an early influence: "The first person I ever saw playing a guitar was Slim Whitman, either a photo of him in a magazine or live on television. Guitars were definitely coming in. Paul McCartney credited a poster of Whitman with giving him the idea of playing his guitar left-handed with his guitar strung the opposite way to a right-handed player's. The 1996 film Mars Attacks! features Whitman's rendition of "Indian Love Call" as a weapon against alien invaders. In 2003, Rob Zombie used Whitman's song "I Remember You" in his movie directorial debut in House of 1000 Corpses.
1968 publicity photo of Slim Whitman
|Birth name||Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr.|
|Also known as||O. D. Whitman,|
|Born||January 20, 1923|
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
|Died||June 19, 2013 (aged 90)|
Orange Park, Florida, U.S.
|Genres||Country and Western music,folk music|
|Instruments||Acoustic guitar, vocals|
United Artists Records
|Associated acts||Byron Whitman|