“Durham Town” Singer, Songwriter, and Expert Whistler Roger Whittaker Dies at 87

Roger Whittaker, the folk singer and songwriter behind the songs “Durham Town (The Leavin’),” “The Last Farewell,” and “New World in the Morning,” who was also known as an expert whistler, died on Wednesday (September 13) in a hospital in southern France. He was 87.

Videos by American Songwriter

No cause of death was revealed. Whittaker’s death was confirmed in an official statement by Sony Music.

“It is with great sadness that we share that our beloved Roger Whittaker passed away on the 13th. September 2023 he left us in peace in the presence of his family,” read an official statement from Sony on Whittaker’s website. “During this difficult time, we would like to thank everyone for their support and compassion. Roger was an iconic artist a wonderful husband and father. He touched so many hearts with his music during his lifetime and will always live on in our memories.”

The statement continued, “The family requests privacy as we go through this time of grief and we thank you for your understanding. Roger will be greatly missed, his legacy will forever live on in our hearts and in his art.”

Born Roger Henry Brough Whittaker on March 22, 1936, in Nairobi, Kenya, the singer-songwriter grew up in a musical family with a father who played violin and a grandfather who often performed at local clubs. At first, Whittaker was studying medicine and training to become a teacher in Kenya. He later switched to civil service work before moving to the U.K. in 1959.

Whittaker started releasing some of his earlier songs while he was an undergrad at the University College of North Wales, where he was studying biochemistry, zoology, and marine biology.

By 1969, Whittaker had his music breakthrough when he released “Durham Town (The Leavin’),” which peaked at No. 23 Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. He later released several more songs, which all made the Top 20 or Top 10 on the charts, including “The Last Farewell,” which went to No. 19 on the Hot 100, along with “New World in the Morning,” and “I Don’t Believe in If Anymore.”

Throughout the 1970s, Whittaker, who became fluent in German, had a growing fanbase in the country. He released 25 albums in German and he continued performing in the country throughout most of his career.

On April 1, 1989, Whittaker’s parents were brutally attacked where they lived in Kenya. His mother was tortured for eight hours and his father was murdered by a gang of four men. “It will affect me for the rest of my life,” said Whittaker of the event, “but I believe we should all live without hate if we can.”

Throughout his career, Whittaker performed around the world and sold 60 million records worldwide. In 2005, a year after having some heart issues, Whittaker went on a tour of Germany, and the U.K. He was still performing in 2011 before officially retiring from touring in 2013.

Whittaker and his wife Natalie “settled into retirement” in France in 2012, according to his website. Married in 1964, the couple had five children and 11 grandchildren.

“Home is the south of France now,” said Whittaker in a 2014 interview. “We live near actor Windsor Davies. I retired from touring in 2013, but I’ve written 18 new songs for an album—and I still whistle very well.” 

Photo by XAMAX\ullstein bild via Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Travis Scott Participates in First Astroworld Lawsuit Deposition