David Whitfield (2 February 1925 — 16 January 1980) was a popular British male tenor vocalist. This operatic-style tenor had a formidable and predominantly female fan base in the 1950s. (This video/recording is his version of ‘The Rudder and the Rock’ which was the B side of the 78 RPM disc of ‘My September Love’ – Deskarati)
Whitfield was born in Kingston upon Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire and as a child, became a choirboy in St. Peter’s Church and began a lifelong love of singing. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17 and served in the Far East as well as being part of the D-Day landings in France in 1944. During his days in the Navy, he would entertain shipmates and also at base hospitals. Returning to civilian life after the war, he began working in the concrete business until a break came as he appeared on the talent show, Opportunity Knocks on Radio Luxembourg. His first couple of releases were not successful, but the third song, a recording of “Bridge Of Sighs” finally broke him into the Top 10 (the UK Singles Chart was only a Top 12 at that time) and the next release, “Answer Me, Oh Lord” went all the way to Number One, the first time a solo British male singer had done this, despite a partial ban by the BBC for the song’s religious connotations. Because of this ban, Whitfield re-recorded the number with different lyrics as “Answer Me, My Love”. Both versions have appeared on CD. His most popular recordings were:-
- “Cara Mia” – with Mantovani which earned him that gold disc and gave him his second Number One in the UK Singles Chart.
- “Answer Me” – his first UK chart topper.
- “My September Love”
- “I’ll Find You” – the theme music to the 1957 film, Sea Wife, starring Joan Collins and Richard Burton.
- “William Tell” – the theme music to the TV series, The Adventures of William Tell.
Whitfield notched up a string of hits in the 1950s, and was the most successful UK male singer in the U.S. during the pre-rock years. He used a variety of popular orchestras of his day, including Stanley Black, Mantovani, and the Roland Shaw orchestra to supply him with his backing accompaniment.
He was the first UK male vocalist to earn a gold disc; the first to have a hit placed in the Top Ten of the Billboard Top 100; and the first artist from Britain to sell over one million copies of one disc in America. Whitfield was the third British artist to win a coveted gold disc. The only other British artists up to that point to have been awarded a Golden Record were Vera Lynn (for “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart”) and trumpeter Eddie Calvert (for “Oh Mein Papa”).
“Cara Mia” spent ten weeks at the pole position in the UK, making it one of the biggest selling British records in the pre-rock days. That recording co-credits Mantovani and his Orchestra and Chorus. Whitfield was invited to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show as well as being one of the stars of the 1954 Royal Command Performance alongside Bob Hope, Frankie Howerd, Guy Mitchell, Norman Wisdom, Max Bygraves, Frankie Laine and Howard Keel. Such was the success and importance to his career of Cara Mia that he named his house on West Ella Way, Kirkella, Hull after this hit record. Like many others, Whitfield’s work was usurped by the tidal wave of rock and roll. All of his hits were released by the Decca record label in the UK. Nevertheless, when the hits dried up, he continued to perform regularly across the globe, despite keeping a home close to his roots in Hull. His only album chart entry was the Decca compilation The World Of David Whitfield which hit Number 19 on the separate mid price chart which ran in the UK during the early 1970s.
Whitfield recorded exclusively for Decca from 1953 (starting with “Marta”) until 1961. Many of his singles were also issued on LP and similarly have been reissued in recent years on assorted CD compilations under licence. There were three 45rpm EP specials (1959–60), one entitled “The Good Old Songs” and the other two featuring numbers from “Rose Marie” and “The Desert Song,” two musical shows in which Whitfield toured. On leaving Decca he recorded two singles for HMV (1962–63). His last LP, made for Philips in 1975 and entitled Hey There! It’s David Whitfield, included his third recording of “Cara Mia” (he had already recorded a stereo re-make of this for Decca in 1966 in an album entitled Great Songs for Young Lovers). Whitfield’s last single was for Denman, a coupling of “Land of Hope and Glory” and “When You Lose The One You Love” (1977).
He never managed to make the amount of money that his success would have brought him if it had happened ten years later. When he died in Sydney, Australia, during a singing tour in Australia from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 54, he left only £3,000 but his renown was exemplified by the four column obituary notice afforded him in The Times.
His ashes were flown back to the UK where they were carried out to sea, south of Spurn Point near his birthplace of Hull. Over 50 years on, he is still one of only six artists to have spent 10 or more consecutive weeks at Number One on the UK Singles Chart.
A statue in the memory of Whitfield was unveiled outside of the Hull New Theatre on 31 August 2012, before the opening night of a show celebrating the life and music of Whitfield. This information was confirmed on BBC Radio Humberside on 23 May.
Edited from David Whitfield