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Ottis Dewey Whitman Jr. (born January 20, 1924), known professionally as Slim Whitman, is an American country music singer and songwriter, known for his yodeling abilities. He has sold in excess of 120 million albums in unit sales and has had numerous successful recordings. He is consistently more popular throughout Europe, and in particular Britain, than in his native America.
His 1955 hit single "Rose Marie" held the Guinness World Record for the longest time at number 1 on the UK charts until Bryan Adams broke the record in 1991 after 36 years. In the U.S., his "Indian Love Call" (1952) and "Secret Love" (1953) reached number 2 on the Billboard country chart. Whitman had a string of hits from the mid 1960s and into the 1970s and became known to a new generation of fans through TV marketing in the 1980s. Throughout the '90s and into the 21st century, he has continued to tour extensively around the world and release new material, and he was featured on the soundtrack of the 1996 film Mars Attacks!. In 2010 a new album, called Twilight on the Trail, was released, produced by his son Byron and featuring the single "Back in the Saddle Again" plus many traditional western favorites that have become standards. His son also is featured on The single " Ragtime Cowboy Joe."
Whitman was born in Tampa, Florida, as Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., sometimes shortening his name to O.D. Growing up, he liked the country music of Jimmie Rodgers and 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.
Whitman, a self-taught left-handed guitarist, is right-handed, but he had lost almost the entire 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. Whitman's first big break came when talent manager "Colonel" Thomas Parker heard him singing on the radio and offered to represent him. Signed 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.
At first, he was not able to make a living from music and kept a part-time job. That changed in the early 1950s after he recorded a version of the Bob Nolan hit "Love Song of the Waterfall," which made it into the country music top 10. His next single, "Indian Love Call," was even more successful, reaching number 2.
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. Critics dubbed his style "countrypolitan," owing to its fusion of country music and a more sophisticated crooning vocal style. Although he has recorded many a western tune, love and romance songs figure prominently in his repertoire.
In 1955 in the United Kingdom, he had a No.1 hit on the pop music charts with "Rose Marie." With 11 weeks at the top of the UK charts, the song set a record that lasted for 36 years. Soon after, Whitman 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 has 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 and '60s. Throughout the early 1970s, he continued to record and was a guest on Wolfman Jack's television show, The Midnight Special. At the time, Whitman's recording efforts were yielding only minor hits.
In 1979, Whitman produced a TV commercial to support Suffolk Marketing's release of a greatest hits compilation titled All My Best, which went on to be the best-selling TV-marketed record in music history, with almost 1.5 million units sold. Just For You (also under the Suffolk umbrella), followed in 1980, with a commercial that claimed Whitman "was number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles." The Best followed in 1982, with Whitman concluding his TV marketing with Best Loved Favorites in 1989 and 20 Precious Memories in 1991. During this time he toured Europe and Australia with moderate success.
In late January 2008, a false rumor of his death spread through the Internet, believed to have been started by an erroneous report posted on the Web site of the Nashville Tennessean newspaper. Country singer George Hamilton IV even dedicated and sang a hymn in Whitman's honor at a concert appearance.
In February 2009, his wife of sixty-seven years, Alma Geraldine (Jerry) Crist, died of kidney failure complications. She had been on dialysis. Whitman has a daughter, Sharon, and a son, Byron K. Whitman, who is also a performer and has toured and recorded with Whitman on numerous occasions.
Whitman lives at his home, Woodpecker Paradise, in Middleburg, Florida, a suburb of Jacksonville.
For his contribution to the recording industry, Slim Whitman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1709 Vine Street. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Walkway of Stars in 1968.
Pop singer Michael Jackson cited Whitman as one of his ten favorite vocalists. Beatle George Harrison cited Whitman as an early influence: "The first person I ever saw playing a guitar was Slim Whitman, either a photo of him in a magazine or live on television. Guitars were definitely coming in.” Paul McCartney credited a poster of Whitman with giving him the idea of playing his guitar left-handed with his guitar strung the opposite way to a right-handed player's.
The 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind features Whitman's rendition of "Love Song of the Waterfall" playing in the tollbooths as the cars speed through, chasing three alien spaceships. The 1996 film Mars Attacks! features Whitman's rendition of "Indian Love Call" as a weapon against alien invaders. In 2003, Rob Zombie used Whitman's song "I Remember You" in his movie directorial debut in House of 1000 Corpses. In the 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Dewey mentions Whitman in response to his wife when she asks him to name one musician who ever made any money. Daniel Johnston mentions "singing like Slim Whitman" in his song "Wild West Virginia" from his 1981 album "Songs of Pain.