The Early Years
Since the summer of 1962 when he took his first steps on the road to a career in entertainment, Roger Whittaker has become an outstanding star all over the world, enjoying a series of highly acclaimed albums and a string of hit singles that includes such classics as "Durham Town," "New World in the Morning," "I Don’t Believe in ‘If’ Anymore," and "The Last Farewell." He has amassed worldwide record sales nearing 50 million. His success has embraced the United States and Canada as well as Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, France, and Austria. In Germany alone, more than 10 million albums have been sold in the last six years, to add to 250 platinum, gold, and silver record awards.
Roger was born in Nairobi, Kenya on March 22, 1936. His parents hailed originally from Staffordshire in England: his father came from a family of grocers; his mother was a teacher. The music of East Africa left a mark on Roger’s childhood. "In over 30 years of singing and playing musical sounds - the wonderful drumming, and those marvellous, infectious rhythms - have played a great part in everything I have ever written and sung." In school, he was an avid member of the school choir and gained top grades. "In the last three years of my formal education, I managed to work hard enough to get top grades in all my school exams and I had great hopes later of studying to become a teacher or a doctor," he says.
However, within three weeks of leaving school, Roger was drafted into national service, and he spent the next two years in uniform in the Kenya Regiment. In 1956, Roger was demobilized and decided that it was time to concentrate on a career in medicine. He enrolled at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, but he wasn’t ready to study day in, day out. After 18 months, he left the university and joined the civil service education department to try teaching. "It was a very exciting time. I was teaching -and loved it! However, this was just an apprenticeship. I could go no further because I had no qualifications. The next hurdle was to find a suitable university. The University of Bangor in Wales was suggested. It was ideal."
Roger arrived in Britain in 1959. For the next three years, he studied zoology, biochemistry, and marine biology with such intensity that he ended up with the second highest grades of his year and a B.Sc. However, during his early days of teaching in East Africa, Roger had continued to sing and entertain in local clubs, and he had by now started to write his own songs. In the last year before sitting for his degree at Bangor, Roger became involved with the University Rag Week when he was approached to compose some songs to sing in the Rag Show. In doing so, he made a demo track that found its way to a major music publisher. Before he knew it, Roger was back in the studio recording his first single, "The Charge of the Light Brigade."
Roger’s second release, "Steel Men," started to pick up radio air play while he was sitting his exams. When he was given the news that he had passed his finals and landed his prized degree, Roger also learned that "Steel Men" had entered the British charts. It was the first hit of what has become a remarkable career.
Faced with the dilemma of which career to choose, Roger sought the advice from his professor. "Take your chance," he was advised. "Have a try in show business and if you haven’t made it in ten years, come back here and teach. I shall always have a place at the university for you."
Finding himself an agent and manager, Roger set out to establish his name and almost immediately was booked for a summer season in Northern Ireland. He then spent the next five years learning his trade. Not long afterwards, he landed his first major breakthrough when he was signed to appear on an Ulster Television show called "This And That." In the spring of 1964, Roger met his future wife, Natalie, and they were married on August 15th after a mere three month’s courtship. Today they live in the heart of England --with their five children, Emily, Lauren, Jessica, Guy and Alexander. By 1967, Roger was slowly beginning to make his name. He had enjoyed several record releases during this time, though the elusive big hit single had still escaped his clutches. Still, he was earning a healthy living and appearing occasionally on radio and television. Roger was asked to join a British team for the annual music festival at Knokke, Belgium. Singing "If I Were a Rich Man," and his own composition "Mexican Whistler," he helped Britain to win the competition. He also emerged as the hit of the entire contest and picked up the coveted and highly prestigious Press Prize as the personality of the festival. Issued on the Continent as singles shortly afterward, "Mexican Whistler" soon reached number one in three different European countries while "If I Were a Rich Man" peaked at number two. Suddenly, Roger was inundated with offers to tour Europe and star on the major television programs.
At home in Britain, however, he was still virtually unknown on a national scale, although his records were played extensively, and he enjoyed a fair amount of success on television and in cabaret. In the fall of 1969, his British record company issued a new single; another of his own compositions with the unusual title of "The Leavin’ (Durham Town)." "I just didn’t have any faith in that song at all," Roger admits. "Far from promoting the single in Britain, I went off to Finland for a cabaret season and television appearances." By the time he returned in November, "Durham Town" was rapidly climbing the British charts.
The Last Farewell
One of Whittaker’s best-loved songs in America is "The Last Farewell." And he enjoys telling the story of how the tune came to be a favorite. Originally recorded in 1971, the lyrics to the song were written by a Birmingham, England, silversmith who entered a contest in which the best lyric or poem sent to Whittaker would be put to music and recorded. Although "The Last Farewell" was not the winner, the song was included on an album, along with the winner "Why" "Suddenly, five years, later, I got the call from Atlanta, Georgia," Whittaker relates. "The wife of a program director had requested the song be played on WSB radio there. She had heard the song while traveling to Canada.
"The Last Farewell" went on to become the most requested song on WSB’s playlist and within weeks, it became a massive hit all over the world, reaching the coveted Number One slot in 11 different countries. In the USA, "The Last Farewell" became a Top 20 hit in 1975 and finally selling over 11,000,000 copies worldwide. The song broke down the barriers to success in America for Whittaker and opened up a vast new country for his music to explore.
Germany, particularly, has been a highly successful market for Roger over the years. It all started back in 1976 when he undertook his first major concert tour of the country, following the success of "The Last Farewell". Record success, however, has established Whittaker’s name in the country and hoisted him to superstardom. His sings and records in the German language. Indeed, in 1985, he was acclaimed as the country’s most successful recording artist, singing in the German language, a distinction no other major international record star could claim. Roger admits to being unable to speak a word of German and records his songs phonetically.
In conjunction with his first American tour in 1980, Roger launched a major international song writing competition, Children Helping Children, from the United Nations in New York through UNESCO. Children from all over the world were asked to submit lyrics and poems on the subject of promoting peace and understanding, the best of which Roger would put to music and record. The contest attracted over one million entries from 57 countries. The winner was 13-year-old Odina Batnag form Manila in the Philippines who was flown to New York and introduced to the huge audience at Roger’s Radio City Music Hall concert where her entry "I Am But A Small Voice", was performed for the very first time. The song has been released worldwide with all proceeds raised by sales being donated to UNESCO’s education for handicapped children programme.That year also finished on a note of extreme triumph when Roger received America’s prestigious B’nai B’rith Humanitarian Award for his work with children.
In 1982, Roger was persuaded to make a movie in his native Kenya. It was an ambitious project, and for six weeks the film cameras followed him throughout the East African country as Roger related the story of Kenya’s history -the British colonial development and the rediscovery of his homeland - through his own unique words and music. The result, Roger Whittaker in Kenya, was screened in Britain by BBC Television in the autumn of 1983, followed by a worldwide transmission.
In 1986, Whittaker made a reappearance on the UK Top 10 singles chart with the standard ‘The Skye Boat Song’ in a duo performance with Des O’Connor. Also in 1986, he published his autobiography, So Far, So Good, co-written with his wife. And, in 1989, Roger was awarded the prestigious Gold Badge of Merit from his peers in the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
The 1990’s have seen Roger continue to perform and record. In the summer of 1991, he was personally invited by Bob Hope to appear in a highly prestigious Gala Charity show at the London Palladium. In 1993 Roger recorded "Celebration," a self-penned album offering a wide array of his vocal and song writing talents. As part of his celebration of 30 years in the music business Roger launched a world tour. His concert in Sacramento California was taped and shown across the United States on Public Television. "The Celebration Concert," was also made available as a home video release from RCA.
In 1997 Roger released "A Perfect Day, His Greatest Hits and More." The title track to this album features Roger singing a sentimental duet with his daughter Jessica. In spite of knee replacement surgery, Roger continued an active concert schedule with nearly 100 concert dates in one European and two North American tours in 1997.
Now established at the very pinnacle of international stardom the sheer magnitude of the demand to see Roger Whittaker performing in concert, or on tour, or on television has resulted in an extensive almost non-stop round of engagements all over the world, making him one of the most traveled entertainers in show business history...and needless to say one of the most successful and respected.
2001 saw a gruelling German tour again, at the end of which an exhausted Roger celebrated his 65th Birthday - the natural age for retirement and announced that he would stop touring completely. However, having moving to Ireland and settling down by the River Shannon, he was soon inspired to start writing again, and needless to say, like all artists missed the roar of the crowds. So in 2003 he again toured Germany to great acclaim, recorded a new German Christmas album, and is currently in the studio, working on his first English album for seven years, hopefully to be released in 2004, with tours of Ireland, Canada, Scandinavia and in 2005 in Germany again, as well as the USA. TV specials and new compilations are in the pipeline, with many of his old songs, long since deleted but so frequently requested by his fans.
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