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1923-2013: Country star Slim Whitman of Middleburg has died

Posted: June 19, 2013 - 7:09am  |  Updated: June 26, 2013 - 10:38am
Slilm Whitman  Times-Union file
Times-Union file
Slilm Whitman

Known as “America’s Favorite Folksinger,” Slim Whitman’s songs were marked with his soaring yodel.

Mr. Whitman, who has lived in Middleburg for years, is dead at 90. He passed away at 1 a.m. Wednesday at Orange Park Medical Center, family friend Sherry Raymer said.

Many remember Mr. Whitman’s yodelling in his 1952 hit “Indian Love Call” as the weapon that killed invading aliens in the 1996 movie “Mars Attacks.”

“I’m the one who killed the blasted Martians,” he joked in a 2008 Times-Union interview.

But back in 1991, Mr. Whitman told The Associated Press he wanted to be remembered as “a nice guy.”

“I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Mr. Whitman said. “I’d like my son [Byron] to remember me as a good dad. I’d like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit.”

He was a good man who never sang anything suggestive, said Raymer, who also knew him from the Jacksonville Church of the Brethren they attended. He died from heart failure, according to the AP, a bit more than four years after his wife of 67 years, Alma Crist Whitman, died at 84.

“They had a great, great marriage and he and Byron used to sing at their church and they were just really wonderful people,” Raymer said. “... There wasn’t anybody like Slim. ... I think he is probably in heaven singing to God right now.”

Loren R. Knapp, president of the Slim Whitman Appreciation Society for 26 years, said: “We have just lost one of the classic country music legends of all time, right up there with Hank Williams. I don’t believe he was ever given the status he should have been given.”

Ottis Dewey “Slim” Whitman was born on Jan. 20, 1923, in Tampa and worked in a meat-packing plant there at age 13. He met his bride-to-be when her father became his church’s pastor, and they eloped three years later.

Returning from World War II, he worked at a Tampa shipyard and joined a band called “The Variety Rhythm Boys.” In 1948 legendary music manager Col. Tom Parker approached him with a contract, joining him to his group of legendary talent that included Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold and one day, Elvis Presley.

Signed with RCA, his 1952 recording of “Love Song of the Waterfall” became his first Top 10 country single, followed by “Indian Love Call” hitting No. 2 on the country-western charts. He was very popular in Europe and England, with a No. 1 hit in 1954’s “Rose Marie” and other chart-toppers like 1954’s “Cattle Call” and 1956’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

He moved to Middleburg in 1955, calling his Old Jennings Road home “Woodpecker Paradise.”

With all his songs, Mr. Whitman “advanced the tradition of country music” by performing pop material in a smooth vocal style, Country Music Hall of Fame senior historian John Rumble said.

“He was a pioneer in popularizing country music beyond the boundaries of the United States,” Rumble said. “ ... I have never heard anyone say anything bad about him. Sometimes just being a decent human in whatever profession, especially entertainment, goes a long way and that is worth remembering.”

Knapp said the 6-foot-1 singer had a falsetto “that made the hair on your neck stand up.” He said he discovered Mr. Whitman’s music in 1966 and began writing articles for the British appreciation society. Mr. Whitman asked him to start the American society in 1979, and they became friends.

“We have lost a heartful soul and a man who sang from his heart,” Knapp said. “I asked him, ‘How do you do those love songs?’ He said, ‘I close my eyes and I think of my wife and I sing to her. When I do a cowboy song, I close my eyes and see the cactus and the sunset.’ ”

When Mr. Whitman took part in television promotions of 1979’s “All My Best” greatest hits collection, it became the best-selling TV-marketed record in music history. When media reports claimed he had died in 2008, the singer quipped to the Times-Union, “If you are dead, you can’t sing.”

He released a final album, “Twilight on the Trail,” in 2010.

Besides his son, Mr. Whitman is survived by daughter Sharron Beagle, both of Middleburg. Family did not wish to comment. Funeral arrangements are being planned.

 

Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549

Comments (12)

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HAPPY JACK
1467
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HAPPY JACK 06/19/13 - 10:33 am
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We used to see him and his

We used to see him and his wife in local resturants in Clay County a lot. RIP Slim and thanks for the music.

Jorge
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Jorge 06/19/13 - 12:21 pm
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Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Jorge
992
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Jorge 06/19/13 - 12:21 pm
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Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Jorge
992
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Jorge 06/19/13 - 12:21 pm
0
0

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Jorge
992
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Jorge 06/19/13 - 12:21 pm
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0

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Jorge
992
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Jorge 06/19/13 - 12:22 pm
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Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Vaya Con Dios, my friend

Jorge
992
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Jorge 06/19/13 - 12:23 pm
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Uh...sorry. I only hit

Uh...sorry. I only hit submit once.

Twang Banger
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Twang Banger 06/19/13 - 12:26 pm
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R.I.P., Mr. Whitman ... what

R.I.P., Mr. Whitman ... what a great career. His music also defeated the Martians!

ElJefe
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ElJefe 06/19/13 - 01:04 pm
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Premium Member

RIP Slim. He was actually an

RIP Slim. He was actually an very accomplished singer, but my lasting memory of his music will be the Martians heads exploding when "Indian Love Call" was played.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MhgnMX73Pw

sandbiskit
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sandbiskit 06/19/13 - 02:03 pm
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RIP Mr. Whitman and thanks

RIP Mr. Whitman and thanks for the wonderful music. Our sympathies and prayers to his family and friends. He is with his beloved wife again. May your happiest memories be of comfort to you all.

aw_heck
362
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aw_heck 06/20/13 - 06:46 am
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Premium Member

Slim Whitman's songs are

Slim Whitman's songs are known as "America's Favorite Folksinger?" That's what you said. Write right.

seeroy
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seeroy 06/20/13 - 08:52 am
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Slim's Family - Thank you for

Slim's Family - Thank you for sharing Slim with the world. His music and voice are truly a gift to anyone that has ever heard it. Personally, his songs have helped me to express my undying love to my wonderful wife of 38 years. - Steve

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