Pop vocalist Margaret Whiting, who was made an honorary member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1949, has died at age 86.
Capitol Records paired Whiting with singing cowboy Jimmy Wakely in a series of highly successful duets, beginning with 1949’s “Slipping Around.” As a result, Whiting became the first woman to have a No. 1 hit on the newly-established country-music popularity charts.
The Whiting-Wakely hits also included “Wedding Bells” (1949), “I’ll Never Slip Around Again” (1949), “Broken-Down Merry-Go-Round” (1950), “The Gods Were Angry With Me” (1950), “Let’s Go to Church Next Sunday Morning” (1950), “A Bushel and a Peck” (1950), “When You and I Were Young Maggie Blues” (1951) and “I Don’t Want to Be Free” (1951).
“It started the whole crossover movement of country-pop,” she recalled in her autobiography. “I was invited to Nashville to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. For a month, I was briefed, as though I were going to a foreign country and should know all the rules of protocol. I was told I was going to meet Little Jimmy Dickens, Roy Acuff, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl, Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. I kept…trying to remember their names. To me, it was like trying to remember the names of Lithuanian royalty. I had no idea who anybody was….What a warm welcome they all gave me.”
Hank Williams plugged his tunes to her. As a result, she became one of the first of the many pop stars who recorded his songs.
Margaret Whiting was born July 22, 1924. Her father, Richard Whiting, was a celebrated Hollywood songwriter. Among his standards are “On the Good Ship Lollypop,” “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” “She’s Funny That Way,” “Sleepytime Gal” and the cowboy standard “Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride.”
He died when she was 13. His collaborator, Johnny Mercer, took her under his wing. Mercer co-founded Capitol Records, signed her to the label in 1942 and penned some of her early hits, including “That Old Black Magic” (1944) and “Come Rain or Come Shine” (1946).
Among her biggest pop successes were “Moonlight in Vermont” (1945, revived in 1954), “Guilty” (1947), “Old Devil Moon” (1947), “Now Is the Hour” (1948), “A Tree in the Meadow” (1948), “Far Away Places” (1949) and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (with Mercer, 1949). She also scored a pop hit in 1949 with country composer Cindy Walker’s “Dime a Dozen.”
In later years, Margaret Whiting became a highly successful cabaret performer. She also starred in the 1955-57 TV sitcom Those Whiting Girls and on Broadway in the 1997 musical Dream. Uncredited, she was the singing voice of Susan Hayward in the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls.
She returned to singing country songs several times in her later recording career on the Verve and Dot labels. She relocated to Manhattan and performed many times in nightclubs and musicals.
Margaret Whiting also made headlines with her several marriages, an affair with movie star John Garfield and her longtime relationship with gay porn star Jack Wrangler, 22 years her junior, whom she eventually married. He died in 2009.
Daughter Deborah Whiting reported yesterday that her mother died on Monday at the Lillian Booth Actor’s Home in Englewood, NJ.
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