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This was the debut chart single for Paul Whiteman, and what a beginning it was. The song was the second biggest hit of the year WHC and the biggest chart success of Whiteman’s career. It was the first of Whiteman’s 30 songs to go all the way to the top and helped him to become the most popular bandleader of the pre-swing era and the dominant force in American popular recording. PM “Whispering” sold over two million copies which, considering the number of record players in use then, would be the equivalent today of sales of 20 million. TY
The Whiteman orchestra started playing the song early in 1920 in Los Angeles during a gig at the Ambassador Hotel, TY but Ray Miller & His Black and White Melody Boys recorded it first on July 1, 1920. WK By year’s end, Victor Records released Whiteman’s version which TY backed by “The Japanese Sandman” (also a #1), became the first charted version.
As was common for songs from that time, “Whispering” “has a basic stepwise melody, simple harmony, and no syncopation.” TY In addition, “the harmony lends itself to banjo and guitar accompaniment, and the melody encourages group singing.” TY In 1920, many families still carried on the pre-victrola tradition of gathering for sing-along sessions. TY
The online All Music Guide says more than 700 different versions of the song have been recorded, including versions by Harry Belafonte, Miles Davis, Tommy Dorsey, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, and Frank Sinatra. WK It has also charted in four different decades. Art Hickman and John Steel followed with top-ten versions of the song. Thirty years later, Les Paul had a million-selling, top-ten hit with his 1951 recording of the song. Unlike the original slow ballad, theirs was a rhythmic version. TY Gordon Jenkins also had a minor hit with it that year and then Paul Whiteman himself re-recorded the song in 1954 and took it to #29. PM The song charted again in 1964 when Nino Tempo & April Stevens took it to #11. In 1977, Dr. Buzzard’s Original “Savannah” Band hit #27 with a disco medley including the song.
- one of the top 1000 songs of all time
- Biggest #1 Pop Songs in U.S. Chart History
- Grammy Hall of Fame
- RIAA’s top 365 songs of the 20th century
- one of the top 100 songs from 1920-1929
Resources and Related Links:
- the DMDB page for “Whispering”
- Paul Whiteman’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- JA David A. Jasen. (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 213.
- TY Don Tyler (1985). Hit Parade 1920-1955. New York, NY: Quill. Page 17.
- WHC Joel Whitburn (1999). A Century of Pop Music. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 35.
- PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 447.
- WK Wikipedia.org