One of the finest voices in country music history is silent today. Slim Whitman, who sold millions of records over three decades, died today at 90 in a Florida hospital, CBC reports.

Whitman had a tenderness to his voice that sprung him from the beer joints of his early days to mainstream television and stage appearances all over the world. In particular, he was notable for gaining tremendous success in the United Kingdom at a time when country music was still in its infancy across the pond. Whitman hit the top of the British charts in 1955 with "Rose Marie," which stayed at number one for 11 weeks — a record that would stand for more than 30 years. That feat established him as one of country music's first ambassadors abroad.

Check out the yodelling:

While Whitman did have some success upon his return to the United States, it was in the U.K. that his star burned brightly. Whitman worked steadily in clubs and halls, until he finally found the hometown success that had dogged him for so long — in the form of an infomercial. Whitman's commercials for his album All My Best became a staple of late-night television in the late 1970s, and they helped make that album the greatest-selling, TV-marketed record of all time. Check out one of those commercials:

Whitman was well known for his smooth, high tenor voice, as well as a proclivity to engage in the country tradition of yodelling. He didn't find it easy, though. In 1991, he told the Associated Press, “It’s like a prize fighter. He knows he has a fight coming up, so he gets in the gym and trains. So when I have a show coming up, I practice yodeling.”

To summarize the impact of Whitman in a single article is a difficult task. What really can be said of his legacy is simply that there are thousands of people whom, without Whitman, would never have been exposed to country music. 

Whitman is survived by his daughter, Sharon, and his son, Byron Whitman.


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posted by Tom Power on Jun 19, 2013