Roger Whittaker, Balladeer With an International Following, Dies at 87

Roger Whittaker, a British singer whose easy-listening ballads and people songs caught the feelings of excellent summer time days and final farewells, touching the hearts of primarily older followers throughout Europe and America for 4 many years, died on Sep. 12 in a hospital close to Toulouse, within the south of France. He was 87.

His longtime publicist Howard Elson mentioned the trigger was “complications following a long illness.” Mr. Whittaker had retired to the area.

Born to British dad and mom in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Whittaker grew up there with the infectious rhythms of East African music in his bloodstream. His grandfather had been a membership singer in England, and his father, a Staffordshire grocer who performed the violin, had been disabled in a bike crash and moved his household to Kenya for the nice and cozy local weather.

Roger discovered to play the guitar at 7 and developed a wealthy baritone in class choirs, the place he generally sang in Swahili. At 18, he was drafted into the British colonial Kenya Regiment, and for 2 years he fought Mau Mau rebels within the wrestle that led to Kenyan independence. He then studied drugs in South Africa and science in Wales, desiring to turn out to be a instructor.

But music intervened. He had performed membership dates to pay for school, and he additionally recorded songs on versatile discs distributed with the campus newspaper, The Bangor University Rag. A file firm preferred them and in 1962 launched his first skilled singles, together with “Steel Men,” his cowl of a Jimmy Dean hit about bridge builders.

“Steel Men” leaped onto the British charts, the opening wedge in a profession of worldwide excursions and file albums that celebrated ethnic and working-class satisfaction, the passing seasons and household gatherings at Christmas. Over the years Mr. Whittaker recorded for varied labels, together with EMI, RCA Victor and his personal Tembo (Swahili for elephant) Records.

Tours took him repeatedly to Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, a live performance grind that usually exceeded 100 gigs a yr and outlasted the millennium. He discovered to fly small planes and generally used them on his excursions.

He wrote a lot of the music he carried out, made a documentary movie about Kenya, wrote an autobiography, appeared often on tv and radio and offered a reported 60 million albums worldwide. One of them, “‘The Last Farewell’ and Other Hits,” recorded in 1971 and forgotten, turned a sensation later, reaching No. 1 on the pop charts in 11 international locations and ultimately promoting 11 million copies.

“‘The Last Farewell’ is an ersatz show tune about a British man-of-war, love, heartache and heroism,” Henry Edwards wrote in The New York Times in 1975. “Released four years ago, the tune was discovered by an Atlanta disc jockey while idly going through a pile of discarded LPs. He liked the song, played it on the air, and soon Atlanta was liking it too. That affection soon spread to Nashville, then to the entire country-music market, then to the pop audience at large.” It turned Mr. Whittaker’s signature music.

In 1980, Mr. Whittaker invited kids to submit lyrics and poems about peace for a songwriting contest. It drew 1,000,000 entries from 57 international locations. He wrote and recorded music for the successful entry, written by Odina Batnag, 13, of Manila. She was flown to New York and launched, along with her music, “I Am But a Small Voice,” at Radio City Music Hall. Proceeds went to a UNESCO program for disabled kids.

By the Eighties Mr. Whittaker was performing in 50 to 70 American cities repeatedly. Boston was a stronghold.

In addition to singing, he whistled, yodeled and had audiences sing alongside. Critics known as it schmaltzy, however crowds beloved it and joined in, particularly on hits like “Durham Town (The Leavin’)” (1969) and covers of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” and Jethro Tull’s “Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll, Too Young to Die.”

“Whittaker’s audience is mostly white and middle-class, probably daytime TV watchers who enjoy the kind of plain, folksy charm he projects,” Thomas Sabulis wrote in The Boston Globe. “He’s no great singer or songwriter; he doesn’t have Neil Diamond’s talent, Tom Jones’s sex appeal or Barry Manilow’s knack for milking the obvious. What he does have is a steady, unspectacular baritone and an avuncular, almost evangelical tone as comforting as it is mediocre.”

Tragedy struck in 1989. Mr. Whittaker’s dad and mom, nonetheless residing in Kenya, have been victims of a brutal residence invasion by 4 robbers. His mom was tortured for eight hours and his father murdered. The killers have been by no means caught. His mom moved again to England.

“It will affect me for the rest of my life,” Mr. Whittaker instructed reporters, “but I believe we should all live without hate if we can.”

After a interval of mourning, Mr. Whittaker resumed recording and touring. In 1995, he sang at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville at a Fiftieth-anniversary celebration for former President George Bush and his spouse, Barbara, who have been followers. In 1997, regardless of a surgical knee alternative, he saved some 100 live performance dates in Europe and America.

He stopped touring in 2013, at 77, and retired to the south of France after years residing in England and Ireland.

Roger Henry Brough Whittaker was born in Nairobi on March 22, 1936, to Edward and Viola (Showan) Whittaker, who, after his bike accident in 1930, had settled on a farm in Thika, exterior Nairobi. His father recovered and have become a profitable builder and businessman in Kenya. His mom managed theaters.

After graduating from the Prince of Wales School in Nairobi in 1954 and ending navy service in 1956, Roger started premedical research at the University of Cape Town, however he dropped out after 18 months. He turned an apprentice instructor however, needing extra schooling, enrolled in 1959 at University College of North Wales (now Bangor University), and earned a Bachelor of Science diploma in 1962.

Still unsure about his future, he consulted a school adviser, who, he later recalled, instructed him, “Have a try in show business and if you haven’t made it in 10 years, come back here and teach.” Mr. Whittaker quickly landed a singing job at a resort in Northern Ireland and started his profession.

In 1964, he married Natalie O’Brien, who turned his supervisor and co-author of his 1986 memoir, “So Far, So Good.” She survives him, as do their 5 kids, Emily Kennedy and Lauren, Jessica, Guy and Alexander Whittaker; 12 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and an elder sister.

A documentary movie, “Roger Whittaker in Kenya: A Musical Safari,” which associated a historical past of Kenya and revisited settings of the singer’s adolescence there, was launched in 1982.

Mr. Whittaker discovered his best European success in Germany. While he admitted he couldn’t converse German at first, he sang and recorded in German “phonetically,” as he put it, till he turned extra fluent. He matured into one among Germany’s favourite singers, promoting 10 million albums there.

He additionally had a loyal following within the United States, the place he was greatest identified for “I Don’t Believe in ‘If’ Anymore” (1970); his model of “Wind Beneath My Wings” (1982); and “New World in the Morning” (1971), the title observe of an album that additionally included “The Last Farewell” and “A Special Kind of Man.”

“Women do not throw underclothes or room keys onstage at his concerts,” Diane White mentioned in a sweet-and-sour appreciation in The Boston Globe. “No one gets high. No one gets hysterical with excitement. And yet Roger Whittaker is one of the most popular entertainers in the world.”

Alex Marshallcontributed reporting.

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