Most people today know him from late-night TV commercials hawking various packages but, for those listening to country from the 50’s to the 70’s, he was a regular visitor to the airwaves. Slim Whitman died earlier today after being admitted to the hospital on Tuesday after suffering heart problems. He was 90.
Roy Beagle, Whitman’s son-in-law, issued a statement to Reuters saying “He died last night at the Orange Park hospital at about 12:45 this morning of heart failure. We had a 90th birthday party for him in January and he looked good, but he had been in failing health since then.”
Whitman had a fascination with early country music while a child but didn’t consider a music career until after getting out of the Navy during World War II. He worked at a Tampa (FL) shipyard while honing his musical skills, eventually joining a band called the Variety Rhythm Boys.
Slim’s big break came in 1948 when Colonel Tom Parker heard him singing on the radio which led to him being signed by RCA Records. While his early releases were not hits, he finally made it in 1952 when his Love Song of the Waterfall made it to number 10 on the Country Singles chart.
His biggest hit came later that same year with Indian Love Call. The song, which was originally from the 1924 Broadway operetta Rose Marie, fit his singing style which included yodeling and falsetto passages. The record went to number 2 on the Country Singles, 9 on Pop Singles and number 7 in the U.K.
Over the next three years, he hit the country top ten six more times including the title song from Rose Marie which made number 4 in the U.S. but stayed at the top of the U.K. charts for eleven weeks, a record that would stand for 36 years.
As music started to change in 1955, Whitman’s hits dried up although he would occasionally have resurgences in the country market including More Than Yesterday (1965 / #8 Country), Guess Who (1971 / #7 Country) and Something Beautiful (to Remember) (1971 / #6). His last record to reach the country charts came in 1981.
Throughout his career, Whitman remained popular in the U.K. but in his home country it wasn’t until he hooked up with Suffolk Marketing in 1979 where he made a TV commercial for All My Best, a compilation of his biggest hits. To this day, it is the biggest selling TV-marketed record in history, selling 1.5 million copies. Over the next decade, he would put out four more TV-only sets, all of which sold well.
His final album was 2010’s Twilight on the Trail which was his first studio album in 26 years.
Whitman was married to Alma “Jerry” Crist Whitman for 67 years before she died in 2009. They had a daughter and a son.