Slim Whitman (Wikimedia Commons/Wil-Helm Agency)
Slim Whitman, the country music singer and yodeler who died today at age 90, was best known by younger generations for a series of unforgettable TV commercials.
But long before Whitman began shilling his albums on late night TV, he was an innovative songwriter who helped bring country music to England and the rest of Europe.
Born Ottis Dewey Whitman on January 20, 1923 (or possibly 1924 – reports differ), he took on a career in country music – and a new nickname – when he was discovered by Colonel Tom Parker, manager to Elvis Presley. Within a few years, the man Parker dubbed "the cowboy singer Slim Whitman" had his first top 10 hit, "Love Song of the Waterfall."
Whitman's high tenor and yodel-inspired vocals hit a chord with listeners, as did his gentle, romantic lyrics that didn't dwell on country music's common theme of loss. Whitman preferred to skip the down-on-your-luck songs in favor of love songs, like his No. 2 hit "Indian Love Call."
In 1954, Whitman released another sweet love song, "Rose Marie," which rose to No. 4 on the U.S. country charts.
The song was a success at home, but in the U.K, it was a phenomenon. It jumped to the very top of the charts and stayed there for 11 weeks – setting a record that would hold for 36 years. The achievement was milked for all it was worth, as Whitman's future TV commercials would tout his hit-making prowess: "number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles."
When Whitman died today, he left behind a memorable legacy that went far beyond a group of slightly silly commercials. A Grand Ole Opry member, Whitman was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was one of Michael Jackson's favorite singers and an early influence on both George Harrison and Paul McCartney. Not bad for a yodeler.
Written by Linnea Crowther