Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr.
Ottis (pronounced AH-tis) 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 three octave range falsetto. In the 1950s he toured with Elvis Presley.
Once known as America's Favorite Folk Singer, he was more popular throughout Europe, and in particular the United Kingdom. His 1955 hit single "Rose Marie" held the Guinness World Record for the longest time at number one on the UK Singles Chart for 36 years.
Whitman was born in Tampa, Florida and growing up he liked the country music of Jimmie Rodgers and the 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. While in the Navy he entertained shipmates by singing, yodeling and playing the guitar.
After the war he played weekly in a supermarket and was hired to perform on local radio stations. Colonel Tom Parker, who later managed Presley, heard him and helped him get a contract with RCA Victor Records. Whitman adopted the stage name Slim and began to appear on the radio show “Louisiana Hayride,” whose performers also included Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
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. After signing 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. A yodeler, Whitman avoided the "down on yer luck buried in booze" songs, preferring instead to sing laid-back romantic melodies about simple life and love.
Although he recorded many western tunes, love and romance songs figured prominently in his repertoire. In 1956 he became the first ever country music singer to perform at the London Palladium and soon after he 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.
After 1957 Whitman lived at his estate, Woodpecker Paradise, in Middleburg, a city located south of Orange Park, Florida, in Clay County. In 2009, Whitman's wife of 67 years, Alma Geraldine "Jerry" Crist Whitman died at the age of 84. She was a songwriter and embroiderer as well as the daughter of a church minister, A.D. Crist, founder of the Church of the Brethren. Whitman and his wife had a daughter, Sharron Beagle; and a son, Byron K. Whitman, who is also a performer and music producer who has released a number of recordings and who toured and recorded with his father on numerous occasions. Slim died of heart failure on June 19, 2013, at age 90, surrounded by family at Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park, Florida. His home has recently been torn down.
Whitman told The A.P. in 1991 that he wanted to be thought of as “a nice guy” and a good father. “I’d like people to remember me,” he said, “as having a good voice and a clean suit." That alone made him unique among performers of today.