Roger Whittaker, famous for his 1969 hit song Durham Town and expert whistling, has died at the age of 87.
A family statement, reported by German media outlet Bild, confirmed he died on September 13 in a hospital in southern France.
Who was Roger Whittaker ?
Roger Whittaker in full, Roger Henry Brough Whittaker was a British singer-songwriter and musician, who was born in Nairobi to English parents.
His music is an eclectic mix of folk music and popular songs in addition to radio airplay hits. He is best known for his baritone singing voice and trademark whistling ability as well as his guitar skills.
Roger Whittaker is widely known for his version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” (1982), as well as his own compositions “Durham Town (The Leavin’)” (1969) and “I Don’t Believe in If Anymore” (1970).
American audiences are most familiar with his 1970 hit “New World in the Morning” and his 1975 hit “The Last Farewell”, which is his only single to hit the Billboard Hot 100 (it made the Top 20) and also hit No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
From the 1970s onwards he had his greatest successes and fan base in Germany, singing in German.
Childhood and beginning
Roger Whittaker was born in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 22, 1936, and his parents were originally from Staffordshire, England.
Whittaker’s parents, Edward and Vi Whittaker, owned and operated a grocery shop.
His father was injured in a motorcycle accident and the family moved to a farm near Thika, Kenya, because of its warmer climate.
His grandfather sang in various clubs and his father played the violin. Roger learned to play the guitar.
Upon completing his primary education, Whittaker was admitted to Prince of Wales School (now Nairobi School).
Upon completing his high school education, he was called up for national service and spent two years in the Kenya Regiment fighting the Mau Mau in the Aberdare Forest.
In 1956 he was demobilised and decided on a career in medicine. He enrolled at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
However, he left after 18 months and joined the civil service education department as a teacher, following in his mother’s footsteps.
Recording and performing career
To further his teaching career, Roger Whittaker moved to Britain in September 1959. For the next three years, he studied zoology, biochemistry and marine biology at University College of North Wales and earned a Bachelor of Science degree while singing in local clubs, and released songs on Flexi discs included with the campus newspaper, the Bangor University Rag.
Shortly afterwards, he was signed to Fontana Records, which released his first professional single, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, in 1962. (On the labels of the Fontana singles, he is billed as “Rog Whittaker”.
In the summer of 1962, Roger Whittaker performed in Portrush, Northern Ireland. He achieved a breakthrough when he was signed to appear on an Ulster Television show called This and That. His second single was a cover version of “Steel Men”, released in June 1962.
In 1966, Whittaker switched from Fontana to EMI’s Columbia label, and was billed as Roger Whittaker from this point forward. His fourth single for the imprint was “Durham Town (The Leavin’)”, which in 1969 became Whittaker’s first UK Top 20 hit in the UK Singles Chart.
Whittaker’s US label, RCA Victor, released the uptempo “New World in the Morning” in 1970, where it became a Top 20 hit in Billboard magazine’s Easy Listening chart. That same year, his downbeat theme song “No Blade of Grass”, written for the film adaptation of the same name that was sung during both the opening and ending titles, became his first film credit.
In the early 1970s, Whittaker took interest in the Nordic countries when he recorded the single “Where the Angels Tread” (Änglamarken) to the music of Evert Taube in 1972. In 1974 he performed at the Finnish Eurovision qualifications.
The song “The Finnish Whistler” he performed became famous in Finland as it was used as a title music for the popular Finnish Yle television cooking programme Patakakkonen.
In 1975, EMI released “The Last Farewell”, a track from his 1971 New World in the Morning album. It became his biggest hit and a signature song, selling more than 11 million copies worldwide.
In 1979, Roger Roger Whittaker wrote the song “Call My Name” which reached the final of the UK Eurovision selection, A Song For Europe, performed by Eleanor Keenan and came third.
Roger Whittaker recorded the song himself and the single charted in several European countries. He established himself in country music with “I Love You Because” getting “into the lower reaches of the country chart” in late 1983.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Whittaker had success in Germany, with German language songs produced by Nick Munro. Unable to speak German, Whittaker sang the songs phonetically.
He appeared on German television and was on the UK Top of the Pops show several times in the 1970s. Whittaker’s German-language songs were not initially well received by some critics, who derided the songs as “meaningless folk music”.
Notwithstanding, Roger Whittaker released 25 albums in Germany and managed to grow a considerable fan base within the country, where he felt he had his most loyal fans, saying “The past few decades have been wonderful … My relationship with the German fans is great.”
In March 2006, Roger Whittaker announced on his website that a 2007 Germany tour would be his last, and that he would limit future performances to “occasional concerts”.
Now more fluent in German, he was seen singing and was interviewed in German on Danish television in November 2008.
In a 2014 interview, Roger Whittaker reiterated that he had retired from touring in 2013, but said that he had written 18 new songs for an album and said “I still whistle very well.
All about Roger Whittaker wife Natalie O’Brien
Who is Roger Whittaker’s wife Natalie O’Brien?
In the spring of 1964, Roger met Natalie O’Brien, who was the secretary of a music producer.
Natalie was born on August 9, 1941, and her father spearheaded Britain’s efforts to counter Nazi Germany’s propaganda during World War II.
Roger and Natalie were married on August 15 after a mere three month’s courtship.
She has been his manager since 1989 and they retired together in France in 2012.
Roger Whittaker children
Did Roger Whittaker and Natalie O’Brien have any children?
The pair were unable to have children in the early years of their marriage so adopted two girls Emily and Lauren.
Later on, they welcomed their three biological children Jessica, Guy and Alexander.
The couple are grandparents of twelve and their youngest daughter Jessica followed in her father’s musical footsteps.
She performed a duet on his singles “A Perfect Day” and “Do You Still Believe In Miracles”.