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January 12, 2011

Margaret Whiting, one of pop music's finest vocalists, dies at 86

Margaret Whiting, one of the finest American pop singers, died Tuesday at the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in Englewood, N.J. She was 86. News reports quote her daughter and sole survivor, Deborah Whiting, saying that her mother died of natural causes.

Margaret Whiting's legacy included hit records and many TV appearances from the late-1940s into the 1960s, followed by a successful career that focuses mostly on musicals and cabaret. Recordings from her prime -- she's perhaps best known for "Moonlight in Vermont" -- reveal a voice of remarkable purity and a disarming, unaffected approach to phrasing. She didn't achieve the fame of, say, Rosemary Clooney, but she had something of that artist's ever-classy style.

I confess I hadn't heard of Margaret Whiting until seeing her on TV chat shows -- I guess it was in the 1980s -- with her latest boyfriend and eventual husband, gay porn star Jack Wrangler. (Of course, I had never heard of Jack Wrangler, either. Honest. Really. No idea who he was. No, not me.)

It was a fascinating sight, the two of them -- the veteran pop singer and a man 22 years her junior who played for the other team. But they were so obviously, genuinely a couple, enjoying their own specially-defined love that you couldn't help but admire them. The story goes that when Wrangler, trying to explain why they couldn't really get together, said, "But I'm gay!," Whiting said: "Only around the edges, dear."

Wrangler, who died in 2009, produced many of the singer's cabaret shows. He also helped put her on Broadway for the first and only time, starring in a 1997 tribute to Whiting's lifelong friend, famed songwriter Johnny Mercer. In 1949, Whiting and Mercer recorded a big hit together that comes around ever winter: "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

I was glad I got to learn about Whiting's artistry, even if it happened because of all the publicity surrounding her unlikely, autumnal romance. I always enjoy hearing her records, which offer a worthy model for aspiring singers of the Great American Songbook.

To mark her passing, here are a couple examples of her legacy. The first is

a contemporary Francesca Blumenthal ballad that suits Whiting superbly: "The Lies of Handsome Men." Then, a wonderful '50s version of the standard "My Foolish Heart."

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes


Back in the late 70s and early 80s, AM860 here in Baltimore was WAYE. Originally classic rock format, it switched to Big Band music. I loved classic rock and learned to love Big Band too. Margaret Whiting was a superb singer, a voice clear as a bell and lovely to listen to. I had an LP of her hits. Not sure I ever got around to replacing it with CD. I'll have to do that.

So sorry to see her leave us. Thanks for the acknowledgement of her passing, Tim.

Speaking of Margaret Whiting, Yahoo's The Judy Garland Experience is paying tribute to her all this week. Along with the weekly uploading of ultra rare Garland tracks we also have several rarely heard and never released Margaret Whiting performances.
Included in the mix is a complete set recorded at Rainbow And Stars in the late 80's, highlights from Margaret's stint as 1946's Voice Of Continental Can Company, television appearances, other concert performances, out of print studio sessions, and more.
If you are a Whiting fan you will not be disappointed:

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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