Roger Whittaker, the gentle-voiced British easy-listening singer who had an unlikely pop hit in 1975 with the song “The Last Farewell,” died Sept. 13 in Toulouse, France, following a lengthy illness. He was 87.
His death was only recently announced on his official website. The statement attributed to his family and Sony Music, said Whittaker died “in peace in the presence of his family.”
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“Roger was an iconic artist, a wonderful husband and father,” the statement continues. “He touched so many hearts with his music during his lifetime and will always live on in our memories.”
Born March 22, 1936, in Nairobi, Whittaker began singing during his college years and in 1969 released the song “Durham Town (The Leavin’)” that showcased his soothing baritone voice and nostalgic story-telling musical style. The song reached No. 23 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
“Durham Town” wouldn’t be his last appearance on the charts. In 1971, he recorded and released “The Last Farewell,” a folk-showtune hybrid song he co-wrote with Ron A. Webster. The record would go largely unnoticed until 1975, when, as Whittaker often recalled, the wife of a program director for an Atlanta radio station happened to hear the song while traveling through Canada. She suggested her husband play the record on his station, and the song caught on with listeners.
“The Last Farewell,” perhaps best remembered for its opening line “There’s a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbor” or its sweet, earworm chorus “For you are beautiful, I have loved you dearly/More dearly than the spoken word can tell,” reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by June of that year and went on to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Over the next forty-plus years, Whittaker would sell millions of albums and tour all-but-constantly throughout Europe and America.
Aside from “The Last Farewell,” Whittaker will undoubtedly be remembered by many American TV viewers of the 1970s and early ’80s for his ubiquitous TV commercials touting greatest hit collections and cover songs such as “Imagine,” “Annie’s Song” and “Feelings,” released on labels K-tel Records and TeeVee Records. The spots occasionally included Whittaker’s whistling, a popular feature among his many fans.
Whittaker retired to France in 2013, settling there with wife Natalie, who survives him. Complete survivor information was not immediately available.
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