Born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., January 20, 1929 in Tampa, Florida; married Geraldine "Jerry" Christ, 1941; children: Byron, Sharon Carlene. Served in the U.S. Navy, 1943-46. Addresses: Home--Currently lives on 40 acre farm near Jacksonville, FL; Record company--Collector's Record Club, GHB Jazz Foundation Building, 1206 Decatur St., New Orleans, LA 70116.
Once dubbed "America's Favorite Folk singer," Slim Whitman was brought to the attention of a new generation of listeners with the 1997 release of Mars Attacks!, director Tim Burton's spoof of the 1950's alien invasion films. In Burton's film, it is Whitman's version of "Indian Love Call" which repels the invading Martians and saves the world from imminent defeat. With more than 103 albums to his credit, a majority now available on CD, Whitman enjoys international popularity in countries such as England, Australia, and Holland. Among his famous fans are Michael Jackson, and George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. In the U.S., World War II hero Audie Murphy was a fan, as was Elvis Presley who toured with Whitman at the beginning of his own career. It is therefore surprising that Whitman has not yet been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is not to say he has gone unrecognized. Whitman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in Holland both a rose and tulip have been named after him. Whitman has sold more than 70 million records worldwide and he continues to play to packed houses and audiences which span nearly three generations.
Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr. was born January 20, 1929, in Tampa, Florida, where he grew up playing baseball, fishing, and listening to Montana Slim and Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music. Whitman had a close-knit family, with two brothers and two sisters. At age fifteen Whitman met Geraldine "Jerry" Christ, the preacher's daughter. They fell in love and Whitman married her two years later. After graduating from high school, Whitman took a job in a meat packing plant. He later found work as a shipfitter and boilermaker at a Tampa shipyard.
In 1943, Whitman joined the Navy. He was stationed on the USS Chilton in the South Pacific. It was onboard the Chilton that Whitman found a guitar and began to play. The left-handed Whitman restrung the guitar upside-down. Each week, during happy hour, he entertained the sailors by either boxing or singing. Fifty years after his service, Navy buddies still approached him with recollections of their time onboard the Chilton.
Honorably discharged in 1946, Whitman returned home to Tampa and his job at the shipyard. He also played baseball with the Plant City Berries, a class C team in the Orange Belt League. With his skillful left-handed pitch and a batting average of .360, Whitman helped his team take the pennant in 1947. Friends, however, urged him to pursue his singing career, so in 1948, he gave up baseball and began to sing professionally.
He started out on Florida radio station WDAE, then moved on to WHBO and WFLA until September 1949, when he teamed up with The Lightcrust Doughboys to do a series of programs through the Mutual Network. The programs were then picked up by a Shreveport Louisiana station, KWKH, and incorporated as part of the "Louisiana Hayride." Up to this point, Whitman had a stutter and was very shy; it was Hank Williams who helped him overcome this obstacle.
A happy accident during one of these radio broadcasts would change electric steel guitar playing forever. Hoot Rains, guitarist in Slim's band, overshot a note. The sound was so unique it was incorporated by the band. It became the definitive "shooting arrow" sound heard on all of Slim's subsequent recordings. The pay for these radio shows was minimal--$18 per week--and Slim had to take a second job as a postal worker to make ends meet. Colonel Tom Parker, who would later become famous as Elvis Presley's manager, heard Whitman on WFLA and, in 1948, helped him get signed to RCA. At the beginning of Presley's career, he toured as the opening act for Slim Whitman. Whitman received $500 per show while Elvis Presley received $50.
There are two stories about how Whitman got the nickname "Slim." One has it that the 6'2" Whitman received it in the Navy. The other has it that management changed his name while he was off fishing, totally unbeknownst to Whitman. However he came by the name it stuck, and in 1952 Slim Whitman was signed to Imperial Records, where he recorded "Lovesong of the Waterfall". He remained with Imperial until 1970.
Slim Whitman released his biggest stateside hit, "Indian Love Call" in July of 1952. The song had been his favorite when he was a boy, and his cover version brought him his highest mark ever on the American Country charts--three weeks at number two, and 21 weeks at number three. It also made the Top 10 on the pop charts. In November 1953 Whitman's "North Wind" was number eight for five weeks and paved the way for his January 1954 cover of "Secret Song," first sung by Doris Day.
His success in the U.S. has been marginal compared to his international reception, especially in Great Britian. In May of 1954, Whitman released "Rose Marie". It went straight to number one on the U.K. pop chart where it remained for 11 weeks. The release of "Indian Love Call" and it's B-side single, "China Doll" were also eagerly received and, in 1956, Whitman became the first Country artist ever to play the London Palladium. He is still a big draw in the U.K.; in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, and 1980, Slim was named "International Male Vocalist" at The Wembley Festival and, in 1991, Slim and his son Byron headlined at the final Wembley Festival.
Perhaps Whitman's avoidance of drinking and cheating songs confused American audiences and prevented him from achieving the kind of success at home that he had long enjoyed overseas. Or perhaps it was bad timing. Whitman's unusual three octave singing ability and his knack for yodeling may have seen out of place at a time when rock and roll was first making an impact. Whatever the case, it wasn't until 1965, with the release of "More Than Yesterday" that Whitman returned to the limelight. Whitman placed eleven songs on the charts between 1966 and 1969, and in 1970 he was invited back to the U.K. where he played three packed shows. Whitman's longtime label, Imperial, was absorbed by United Artists (UA) in 1970 and Whitman remained on UA until 1974. During his United years, Whitman had hits with "Guess Who", "Something Beautiful (to Remember)", "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" and "Happy Anniversary," which made it to number 14 on the British pop chart in 1974.
In 1977, Whitman toured Great Britian again, this time with his son, Byron, who had an album out at the time under the moniker Byron Keltgh. Speaking of touring with his son, Whitman has said "He does have his own style, especially on record. On stage we also team up into the two Whitmans, 'The Powerhouse' we call it, with the two high yodels, the two high voices."
In 1979 Whitman released a 20 track television album, All My Best, through Suffolk Marketing. This album went on to sell a record four million copies. Following up on this success, Suffolk released another compilation in 1989, entitled Just For You. Whitman then signed with Cleveland International Records and returned to the top 15 with "When." He recorded two more records with Cleveland: That Silver-haired Daddy of Mine, and Can't Help Falling in Love. Two years later, he recorded Angeline, produced by Bob Montgomery, which contains a duet with Byron Whitman titled "Four Walls." Heartland released Slim Whitman-Best Loved Favorites in 1989 and Progressive Music released 20 Precious Memories, a religious record, in 1991. Both were television records and both were successes. When asked how he'd like to be remembered, Slim said, "As a nice guy with a white hat, you might say. I'd like my son to remember me as a good dad. I'd like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit."
by Kevin O'Sullivan
Slim Whitman's Career
Appeared in the movie Mars Attacks!, 1997.
- Selective Works
- America's Favorite Folk Artist, Imperial, 1954.
- Favorites, Imperial, 1956.
- Unchain My Heart, Sunset, 1968.
- The Best of Slim Whitman, United Artists, 1972.
- All My Best, Suffolk, 1979.
- Ghost Riders in the Sky, Liberty, 1981.
- Angeline, Epic/Cleveland International, 1984.
- One of a Kind, Pair, 1984.
- The Very Best of Slim Whitman, Country Store, 1985.
- Just for You, Suffolk, 1989.
- Greatest Hits, Curb, 1990.
- 20 Precious Memories, Progressive Music, 1991.
- How Great Thou Art, Arrival, 1993.
- Vintage Collections, Capitol, 1997.
- Whitburn, Joel, Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles; 1944-1993, Billboard Publications, 1994.
- Periodicals Associated Press AAA Wire, January 28, 1991 Country Music People, March 1987.
- Additional information provided by publicity materials from "The Louisiana Hayride" and Epic Records.