Roger Whittaker, Folk Singer Known for 'Durham Town,' Dead at 87

"His legacy will forever live on in our hearts and in his art," his family wrote in a statement shared on Tuesday

<p>Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty</p> Roger Whittaker

Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty

Roger Whittaker

Folk singer Roger Whittaker, best known for songs like “Durham Town” and “The Last Farewell,” has died. He was 87.

His family and Sony Music shared a statement confirming his death on his official website on Tuesday. Without disclosing a cause of death, they revealed that the singer-songwriter died last week on Sept. 13.

“It is with great sadness that we share that our beloved Roger Whittaker passed away on the 13th,” the statement read. “September 2023 he left us in peace in the presence of his family.”

The Whittaker family and Sony Music continued, “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.”

<p>Stefan M. Prager/Redferns</p> Roger Whittaker

Stefan M. Prager/Redferns

Roger Whittaker

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

The folk artist found success in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the release of singles like “Durham Town (The Leavin’)” (1969), “New World in the Morning” (1970) and “The Last Farewell” (1971). His music also reached audiences across the world because of his ability to sing in German and French, per the BBC.

According to a biography on his official website, the folk artist was born to his parents who were originally from Staffordshire, England on March 22, 1936 in Nairobi, Kenya. Growing up in Kenya, he developed an appreciation for music being surrounded by the culture and singing in his school's choir throughout childhood.

The “New World in the Morning” artist studied medicine after he was drafted into the Kenya Regiment for two years. After studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa for 18 months, he returned to the U.K. in 1959 to pursue teaching.

<p>Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty</p> Roger Whittaker

Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty

Roger Whittaker

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While working towards his degree, the performer began playing in small venues and releasing his first recordings on flexi discs, per Billboard. His cover of Jimmy Dean’s “Steel Men” (1962) was his first song to chart in the U.K.

In the years following, he continued releasing music. Then in 1969, his record label EMI released his original song "Durham Town (The Leavin')," even though he “didn't have any faith” in the song, according to his biography. It went on to chart in both the U.K. and U.S., continuing to contribute to his international recognition and acclaim.

“The Last Farewell” became his most successful single, reaching the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975, several years after it was first released in 1971.

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“The strange part of [the entertainment industry] was, it wouldn't let me go. If I had an ounce of common sense … I should've gone straight back to university,” Whittaker told the BBC Radio 2 show The Voice of Reason in 2014. “But I didn’t. It was one of those things: I just got my teeth into it like a bulldog … I just got my teeth into it and stuck with it and stuck with and and stuck with it, and slowly but surely it all came right. The luck came my way. I picked the right songs to sing.”

Whittaker and his wife of 59 years Natalie retired in France in 2012. He is survived by her and their five children — Alexander, Emily, Guy, Jessica and Lauren. 

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