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."