#61: The Last Farewell by Roger Whittaker
Roger Henry Brough Whittaker was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1936. Upon completing his high school education, he was called up for national service and spent two years in the Kenya Regiment fighting the Mau Mau in the Aberdalre Forest. In 1956 he was demobilised and decided on a career in medicine. He enrolled at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. However, he left his studies in medicine behind after a year and a half, and joined the civil service education department as a teacher. He moved to Wales in 1959, and while a student at university, he gained attention as a local singer. In 1962, he got a recording contract with Fontana Records. His first single was “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. In the summer of 1962, Whittaker performed in Portrush, Northern Ireland. He achieved a breakthrough when he was signed to appear on an Ulster TV show called This and That. His second single was a cover version of “Steel Men”, released in June 1962. On his Fontana releases he was billed as Rog Whittaker.
In 1966, Whittaker switched from Fontana to EMI. and was billed as Roger Whittaker from this point forward. In 1967, he released a single of “If I Were A Rich Man”, from Fiddler On The Roof. The single climbed to #4 in the Netherlands. And in 1968, Whittakers’ “Mexican Whistler” peaked at #9 in the Netherlands. His fourth single for the imprint was “Durham Town (The Leavin’)”, which in 1969 became Whittaker’s first UK Top 20 hit. Whittaker’s US label, RCA, released “New World in the Morning” in 1970, where it became a Top 20 hit in Billboard magazine’s Easy Listening chart, UK and New Zealand singles charts. It also soared to number-one on the Irish singles pop chart. That same year, his single “No Blade of Grass”, was featured at the opening and ending credits for the film of the same name. His biggest success to date became his single “I Don’t Believe in If Anymore”. The single climbed to #Belgium, the Netherlands and South Africa, #4 in Ireland and New Zealand, and #8 in the UK.
In 1975, Roger Whittaker released a single titled “The Last Farewell”.
“The Last Farewell” is a song Roger Whittaker recorded in 1971. He hosted a radio programme in The UK in 1971, backed by an orchestra with arrangements by Zack Lawrence. Whittaker recalls “one of the ideas I had was to invite listeners to send their poems or lyrics to me and I would make songs out of them. We got a million replies, and I did one each week for 26 weeks.” Ron A. Webster, a silversmith from Birmingham, England, sent Whittaker his poem entitled “The Last Farewell”, and this became one of the selections to appear on the radio program. According to Whittaker, the wife of a program director for a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia, was traveling in Canada in 1975. She heard Whittaker’s four-year-old recording on the radio. After she returned to the United States, she asked her husband to play it on the station. After he played the song a few times, listeners called the station to discover more about the song and singer, and soon thereafter “The Last Farewell” was on the charts.
“The Last Farewell” is a song describing a ship in a harbor that sails soon for England, “away from your land of endless sunshine.” The sailor on the outbound ship is in the navy. He reveals that “there’s a wicked war a-blazing. And the taste of war I know so very well. Even now I see the foreign flag a-raising. Their guns on fire as we sail into hell.” Though he has no fear of death, and “death and darkness gather” all around him, he is comforted by his memories of the sunny islands where he met his sweetheart. She is beautiful, and he loves her dearly than words can express.
Whittaker says much of the appeal of “The Last Farewell” comes from the classical-sounding nature of the opening French horn solo. This arrangement was done by Zack Lawrence for the song’s initial airing on Whittaker’s radio programme. From the mid-1970s until about 1981, WGN-TV, “Chicago’s Very Own Channel Nine” used the introductory fanfare in its station identification.
“The Last Farewell” peaked at #1 in Flint (MI), Hamilton (ON), Birmingham (AL), Sault Ste. Marie (ON), Ottawa (ON), and La Crosse (WI), #2 in Vancouver (BC), Kansas City (MO), Boston, Windsor (ON), Reading (PA), and Milwaukee (WI), #3 in Dayton (OH), #5 in Wilmington (NC), #6 in Peterborough (ON), #7 in Houston, Hartford (CT), #8 in Philadelphia, and #9 in Harrisburg (PA).
Internationally, “The Last Farewell” peaked at #2 in Ireland and the UK, #3 in Australia, #7 in the Netherlands, #9 in Canada, and #19 in New Zealand and the Billboard Hot 100. Whittaker’s single has sold over 11 million copies. Between 1920 and 2022, just over twenty singles have exceeded the all-time sales of “The Last Farewell”
In 1976, Whittaker enjoyed another Top Ten hit with “River Lady (A Little Goodbye)” which peaked at #4 in Denmark. This was followed by a number of Top Ten Adult Contemporary chart singles in Canada, where Roger Whittaker had developed a strong following. His AC chart hits in Canada into the late 70s and mid-80s include “From the People to the People”, “Durham Town”, “You Are My Miracle”, “I Was Born”, “Too Beautiful To Cry”, “Stranger On The Shore”, and “Your Voice”. While in Denmark, Whittaker enjoyed Top Ten success on the pop charts with “Albany” (1982), and “Abschied ist ein scharfes Schwert” (1984). And in the UK, Whittaker had a Top Ten hit in 1986 with “The Skye Boat Song” in a duet with Des O’Connor. Whittakers’ last appearance on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart was in 1990 with “Take Away My Pain”. While his last charting single internationally was in 1992 in Denmark with “Du wirst alle Jahre schöner”. Roger Whittaker continued to release singles into the late ’90s.
In 1986, Whittaker published his memoir, So Far, So Good.
On April 1, 1989, Whittaker’s parents, who were still living in Kenya, were brutally attacked by four men who tortured his mother for eight hours and killed his father. His mother moved back to England after the incident. Roger Whittaker said about the incident, “It will affect me for the rest of my life, but I believe we should all live without hate if we can.”
Whittaker released 25 albums in Germany and managed to grow a considerable fan base within the country, where he feels he has his most loyal fans, saying “The past few decades have been wonderful … My relationship with the German fans is great.” In March 2006, Whittaker announced on his website that a 2007 Germany tour would be his last, and that he would limit future performances to “occasional concerts”. Now more fluent in German, he was seen singing and was interviewed in German on Danish TV in November 2008. In a 2014 interview, Whittaker reiterated that he had retired from touring in 2013, but claimed that he had written 18 new songs for an album and said “I still whistle very well”.
February 13, 2023
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