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Roger Whittaker Biography

22 March 1936, Nairobi, Kenya. Born of English parents originally from Staffordshire, Whittaker spent his younger years living in Africa. It was here that he acquired his first musical instrument in the shape of a guitar made by an Italian prisoner-of-war. In 1956 he moved to South Africa to what was to be an ill-fated attempt at studying medicine in Cape Town. After a period of teaching, he arrived in Wales in 1959 to study marine biology and bio-chemistry. Until then, Whittaker had treated his musical career purely as a part-time occupation, entertaining small groups of friends and the occasional folk club date. By 1961, while still continuing his studies, he had played many cabaret slots and after recording an independently-funded single for charity, he secured a contract with Fontana Records. His second single, ‘Steel Man’ (as Rog Whittaker), reached the lower regions of the UK charts. Roger decided to eschew a promising career in science in favour of one in entertainment. His brand of romantic folk-ballads made him a favourite with audiences all around Britain, particularly in Northern Ireland, where he enjoyed a resident spot on the Ulster television show This And That.

His steady rise in popularity was bolstered by a successful appearance at the Knokke music festival in Belgium in 1967. Among his prize winning performances was the self-penned, ‘Mexican Whistler’, which was recorded in Paris soon after the festival and became a chart number 1 around the continent. Whittaker’s easy-going, relaxed style made him a star performer on the European television and concert circuit. By learning the translation of his songs phonetically, he has taken the trouble to record especially for his German audience. This growing band of admirers spread in time to the Antipodes and Canada, yet he had still to crack the UK market. This was achieved in 1969 with ‘The Leavin’ (Durham Town)’ and the follow-up, ‘I Don’t Believe In If Anymore’. Along with ‘New World In The Morning’, ‘Why’ (co-written with Joan Stanton) and ‘The Last Farewell’ (co-written with Ron Webster), these songs established Whittaker as a successful MOR performer and finally made him a star in his adopted home country, giving him his own BBC television series.

It was the ‘Last Farewell’ that eventually broke the singer in the USA, bringing him a Top 20 hit in 1975 and finally selling over 11, 000, 000 copies worldwide. During the ensuing round of coast-to-coast tours and talk shows, Roger launched a songwriting competition on behalf of UNESCO, earning him the B’nai B’rith Humanitarian Award. In 1986, after a gap of 11 years, Whittaker made a reappearance on the UK Top 10 singles chart with the standard ‘The Skye Boat Song’ in a duo performance with fellow light entertainer, Des O’Connor. He has never lost contact with his African roots and his concern for the diminishing numbers of rhinos in his native Kenya led to a campaign to fight the poachers, including the fund-raising song, ‘Rescue The Rhinos’. As a prodigious recording and performing artist, Roger Whittaker’s global record sales have reached in excess of 40, 000, 000, a glowing testimony of this singer’s phenomenal success. In 1992, Roger Whittaker undertook a major UK concert tour with his ‘outstandingly acclaimed American show’, and continued to appear regularly in many other countries around the world.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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