Margaret Whiting: Sweet-voiced singer who came to fame singing duets with Johnny Mercer

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's not surprising, considering her antecedents, that Margaret Whiting had good taste and a beautiful voice. Her father, Richard Whiting, had been a songwriter – he wrote "The Good Ship Lollipop", "Japanese Sandman" and "Ain't We Got Fun" – and when he died in 1938 the singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer, who had worked with Whiting writing lyrics for his songs, looked after the young girl.

She had sung for Mercer before, when she was six and he had called to see her father. "I came down in my nightgown," she said, "sang two songs and went back up to bed."

Mercer's career was taking off in a big way and in 1942 he co-founded Capitol Records, persuading Nat "King" Cole, Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton and Jo Stafford to sign for the label. It was a logical step to contract Margaret Whiting as well and he supervised her first records under her own name. One of them, in 1942, was "That Old Black Magic", written by Mercer and Harold Arlen, and it became her first hit but appeared under the name of Freddie Slack, a pianist in whose band she sang.

Her voice had such appeal that she would no doubt have gained fame without Mercer's help. She had another hit in 1943 with Billy Butterfield when she was working as the singer with the trumpeter's big band and they recorded "Moonlight in Vermont". This was the first recording of this beautiful tune, which lay neglected for many years after Whiting's success with it.

She toured with the USO (United Services Organisation) entertaining the troops in the Second World War and again in the Korean War, building a solid reputation for quality that was to stay with her throughout a career that continued until 2009. Yet, despite her the success of her early years she never achieved the fame of contemporaries like Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald.

All her hits were tasteful classics of the genre and the next one, which had featured in the film State Fair (1945), was another gem, "It Might As Well Be Spring". She used this as her theme song throughout her career. The film Julie and Julia (2009), which featured Meryl Streep, revived her fortunes when her 1947 recording of another beauty, "Time After Time", was included in its soundtrack. Although she didn't appear on screen her voice was heard in the films Bugsy (1991), The Cider House Rules (1991) and Valley of the Dolls (1967), providing the singing voice for Susan Hayward in the latter.

Three hit records in 1948 were followed the next year by a duet recording with Mercer of "Baby It's Cold Outside" that stayed on the Billboard chart for 19 weeks. Margaret Whiting appeared on television often in its early years and during the Fifties starred with her younger sister Barbara in a series called Those Whiting Girls.

After several albums on Capitol she moved to the Dot and Verve labels but returned to Capitol and in 1966 had another big hit on the label, "The Wheel of Hurt". She had a successful career in cabaret which continued on and off until 2009 and she appeared in touring versions of shows like Call Me Madam, Gypsy, Pal Joey and Over Here!

Her first three marriages ended in divorce and her fourth in 1994 was to Jack Wrangler, a star of gay pornographic films in the Seventies and 22 years her junior. When they first met he told her, "I'm gay."

"Only around the edges, dear," she said.

Steve Voce

Margaret Eleanor Whiting, singer: born Detroit, Michigan 22 July 1924; four times married (one daughter); died Englewood, New Jersey 10 January 2011.