The daughter of famed songwriter Richard Whiting, vocalist and actress Margaret Whiting was surrounded by legendary song writers including such notables as Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Jerome Kern, Leo Robin, and the Gershwin Brothers. Her father had been a contributor to popular music including such classics as “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “Sleepy Time Gal,” “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “She’s Funny that Way,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” and many more popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s. It was not unusual to find Johnny Mercer in one room with Harold Arlen, and Judy Garland and Mel Torme singing together in another. Mercer had always been a close friend of her father and soon became her chief mentor, helping to coach and guide her as her career developed as a teen. The first piece of advice he gave Margaret was to “grow up and learn to sing.” Mercer helped her learn to sing, and Whiting was also coached by the great song writer Harold Arlen, as well as other notable composers and friends of her father.
When popular songwriter Johnny Mercer co-founded Capitol Records in 1942, 16-year-old Whiting was one of the first artists he signed to the new label. She had appeared on the Lucky Strike sponsored Your Hit Parade the previous year but was fired by the owner of the company because he said he couldn’t dance to her songs. Her first major hit in 1942 was Mercer’s and Arlen’s “That Old Black Magic” with Freddie Slack and his orchestra. The song was recorded on the Capitol Records label one week after Whiting’s eighteenth birthday. In 1943 Margaret recorded her late father’s 1930s song “My Ideal,” with lyrics by Leo Robin. It also was the precursor to a long list of hits she made for Capitol and the first of over a dozen records that sold over a million copies.
In 1944, Mercer heard a song written by two unknown songwriters, Johnny Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf, entitled “Moonlight in Vermont.” He felt it was perfect for Margaret and when Mercer approached her about singing it, she replied, “I don’t know what to sing about in this song. I’ve never been to Vermont. How can I sing a song about a place I’ve never been to? What is the significance of pennies in a stream? What will I do with the lyric? What are ski tows?” Mercer replied, “I don’t know. I’m from Savannah. We’ll use our imagination.” Mercer talked to the songwriters about the use of the words “ski tows” and they accommodated him by changing the words to “ski trails.” It is one of the few popular songs ever written without a rhyme in the entire lyric, and it became her signature song, complemented by Billy Butterfield and his orchestra, and selling millions of records and copies of sheet music. Incidentally, it was many years later before she ever visited Vermont.
Born on July 22, 1924, in Detroit, MI; daughter of songwriter Richard “Dick” Whiting and Eleanore (Young), a homemaker and manager of singers including Margaret Young and Sophie Tucker; eldest of two daughters; married CBS business executive Hubbell Robinson; married Lou Busch, Capitol Records music director and a pianist (aka Joe “Fingers Carr) and Richard Moore, the inventor of Panavision; married Jack Wrangler, 1987. All four marriages ended in divorce; children: Deborah, born 1950, with husband Lou Busch. Education: Attended EI Rodeo School, Marymount Preparatory School, Los Angeles, CA; Taught to sing by aunt, Margaret Young, Alison Ryan’s Dancing School; studied with Lillian Goodman for eleven years and with Harriet Lee.
Signed with Capitol Records, 1942; first major hit, “That Old Black Magic,” 1942; released signature song, “Moonlight in Vermont,” 1944; performed a series of duets with country singer Jimmy Wakely, 1949; host television show, The Whiting Girls, with sister Barbara, 1950s; remained with Capitol Records for 17 years until 1958, then moved to Dot Records; switched to Verve Records, 1960; returned to Capitol in the early 1960s, then joined London Records, 1966; has recorded over 500 popular songs; film and Broadway actress.
Awards: Songwriters’ Hall of Fame; 12 gold records.
Addresses: Home —Margaret Whiting, 41 West 58th Street, Apt. 5A, New York, NY 10019.
In the 1940s, composer Walter Gross wrote a beautiful melody and entitled it “Walter’s Melody.” He wrote it for Margaret Whiting when they were dating, and it remained unpublished. When Margaret Whiting heard the song, she felt it was beautiful and introduced Gross to lyricist Jack Lawrence, who added a set of lyrics. Lawrence also changed the title, and it became the all-time classic standard, “Tenderly.” It was one of the most widely recorded songs of the twentieth century. Oddly, it was never recorded by Whiting, though she was directly responsible for itscreation.
In the summer of 1948, Whiting’s recording of Englishman Billy Reid’s “A Tree in the Meadow” sold over a million copies and became Reid’s first of several winning gold discs, rising to number one on the Hit Parade. That same year Whiting recorded “Now is the Hour” and “Far Away Places,” which were also enormous hits. She collaborated with orchestra leader Paul Weston and recorded Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II “It Might As Well Be Spring.” The song became a big hit for Whiting and Dick Haymes who starred in the motion picture musical State Fair. In 1949, she performed a series of duets with country singer Jimmy Wakely and their rendition of “Slippin Around” reached number one on the charts. She remained with Capitol Records for 17 years until 1958 and then moved to Dot Records. In 1960, Whiting switched to Verve Records and recorded a number of albums including one with vocalist Mel Torme. She returned to Capitol in the early sixties and then joined London Records in 1966 and recorded two additional charting pop singles. Whiting has recorded more than 500 popular songs.
In the interim, Whiting appeared in a number of Broadway productions including Gypsy, Pal Joey, and Call Me Madam, as well as an off-Broadway play, Taking My Turn in 1983. Her activities also included appearing in cabarets and joining three other 1940s and 1950s singers Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, and Helen O’Connell, and comediennes Rosemarie, Martha Raye, and Kaye Ballard in a rotating singer/comedienne act called 4 Girls 4. They toured for 12 years together, each performing their own songs and concluding the performance with a joint finale. In addition, Whiting has appeared in many motion picture films as an actress and vocalist. She worked on television on the Bob Hope Show as a resident vocalist and regularly appeared on the Jack Smith Show as a twice a week regular as well as guest appearances on many major television shows. In the 1950s, Whiting and her sister, Barbara, hosted their own television series, The Whiting Girls, a sitcom about two sisters striving for a career in show business.
Whiting is a board member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Society of Singers, Grammy Awards, The Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, and is a master teacher at the Eugene O’Neill Foundation’s Cabaret Symposium located in Waterford, Connecticut. In addition, she can be found entertaining aboard cruise ships, and at music halls and night clubs from New York to California. In 1997, she appeared in the Broadway salute to Johnny Mercer entitled Dream that ran from April 3, 1997, through July 6, 1997, with a total of 133 performances. Whiting went on nostalgic big band tours with Freddy Martin and his orchestra in the 1970s accompanied by Frankie Carle and Bob Crosby. In addition, she sang with the St. Louis Symphony. Since that time Whiting has appeared in a number of films and television productions, and has performed in cabarets, music halls and as late as 1999 performed on the television show Larry King Live on the CNN cable television network.
Over a career that spans six decades, Whiting has performed songs by Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Arthur Schwartz, Otto Harbach, George Gershwin, Jule Styne, Harold Arlen, Dorothy Fields, Richard Whiting, and many other prominent popular songwriters of the twentieth century. During her tenure, Whiting has worked with vocalists and songwriters such as Cole Porter, Mel Torme, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy Wakely, Gerry Mulligan, Lex Baxter, Paul Weston, and Bing Crosby, toname but a few. One of her most remarkable traits is her willingness to share her time to be supportive of new and young talent as well as other experienced professional singers. She is also chairperson of the Johnny Mercer Charitable Foundation.
Goin’ Places, Dot DLP 3072.
Jerome Kern Song Book, Verve V6-4038.
Just a Dream, Dot DLP 25337.
Love Songs by Margaret Whiting, Capitol T410.
Margaret, Dot DLP 3113.
Past Midnight, MGM SE 4006.
Ten Top Hits, Dot DLP 25235.
Margaret Whiting Sings for the Starry Eyed, Capitol T-685.
Margaret Whiting Sings Rodgers and Hart, Capitol H 209.
The Wheel of Hurt, London LL3497.
Capitol Collector Series, 93194.
Come a Little Closer, Audiophile 173.
Greatest Hits, CEMA 9404.
The Lady’s in Love With You, Audiophile 207.
Maggie’s Back in Town, Pair 1224.
One and Only, Jasmine 343.
Spotlight on Margaret Whiting, Capitol 29395.
Margaret Whiting, Then and Now, Cabaret 21471-1403-2.
Then and Now, DRG 91403.
Too Marvelous for Words, Audiophile 152.
Fresh From Paris, 1955; aka Paris Follies of 1956.
Underworld Informers, 1965; aka The Informers.
The Counterfeit Constable, 1966.
The Old Curiosity Shop, 1975; aka Mr. Quilp.
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, 1977.
Taking My Turn-A Musical Celebration, 1983.
The Secret Garden, (Television), 1987.
Balliett, Whitney, American Singers 27 Portraits in Song, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Bennett, Tony, The Good Life, Pocket Books, 1998.
Gammond, Peter, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford University Press, 1993.
Jablonski, Edward, Harold Arlen, Rhythm, Rainbows and Blues, Northeastern University Press, 1996.
Lax, Roger and Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie and Video Guide 1995, Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.
Osborne, Jerry, Rockin Records, Osborne Publications, 1999.
Simon, William L., Parade of Popular Hits, The Reader’s Digest Association Inc., 1989.
Simon, William L., Readers’ Digest Treasury of Best Loved Songs, The Reader’s Digest Association Inc., 1987.
White, Mark, You Must Remember This, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985.
Whiting, Margaret and Will Holt, It Might as Well Be Spring, William Morrow & Co., 1987.
People, May 4, 1987.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/x.dll (January 2000).
City Cabaret, http://www.citycabaret.com (October 1999).
Elibrary, www.elibrary.com (January 2000).
Johnny Mercer website, http://www.johnnymercer.com (January 2000).
Additional information was obtained through an interview with Margaret Whiting on July 1, 1999.
—Francis D. McKinley
"Whiting, Margaret." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whiting-margaret
"Whiting, Margaret." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whiting-margaret
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