Friday, October 30, 2020

100 years ago: Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” hit #1


Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra

Writer(s): Vincent Rose (music), John Schonberger and Richard Coburn (lyrics) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: October 30, 1920

Peak: 111 US, 12 GA, 1 5 SM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 (includes 1.0 in sheet music)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.48 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

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 CPM 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. TY1

The Whiteman orchestra started playing the song early in 1920 in Los Angeles during a gig at the Ambassador Hotel, TY1 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 TY1 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.” TY1 In addition, “the harmony lends itself to banjo and guitar accompaniment, and the melody encourages group singing.” TY1 In 1920, many families still carried on the pre-victrola tradition of gathering for sing-along sessions. TY1

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. TY1 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.


First posted 10/30/2011; last updated 1/28/2023.


  1. Undoubtedly one of my favorite 1920s songs along with “my blue heaven”