Tributes are being paid across Germany to the singer Roger Whittaker, described as the country’s favourite Briton who served his biggest and most loyal fanbase by singing in their tongue.
Whittaker, whose death at 87 was announced on Monday, admitted to never learning to speak the language, but became one of the most prolific recording artists in German by having his translated lyrics transcribed phonetically and taking lessons to sound as if he meant what he sang.
He re-recorded his biggest-selling single, 1971’s The Last Farewell, (also covered by Elvis Presley) in German as Du Warst Mein Schönster Traum (you were my most beautiful dream) and its runaway success led to subsequent decades in which he continued to make recordings in the language.
His biggest hit in Germany was Abschied ist ein Scharfes Schwert (parting is a sharp sword) in 1984. A 41-concert tour of West Germany in 1977, when he was the country’s top-selling artist, had earlier secured his status as a household name and ensured that anyone who grew up at that time heard his music, often because their parents and grandparents played it.
Some German music critics struggled to understand his popularity. A reviewer of the tour for Der Spiegel magazine described the crooner as “having the diligence and charisma of an accountant”, like a “well-behaved handy man” who was “a magnet to grass widows looking for someone to fix the hosepipe”.
But the critic reluctantly admitted that the key to the “cuddly, crushable baritone”’s success in Germany was his ability to “express through song precisely what the silent majority is thinking”.
The magazine also pointed out that “at home in England he is not nearly as popular”.
“My relationship with the German fans is great,” Whittaker told an audience towards the end of his career, having released 25 albums in the country, been a regular on the TV show ZDF-Hitparade, received numerous awards, and staged his farewell tour there in 2013.
He said he had to train his lip muscles to get to grips with umlauts, the dots placed over vowels that change their sound. “If you’re not born in Germany, you simply don’t have the muscles that you need to make the sounds Ä, Ö and Ü,” he said, describing the word zärtlichkeit or tenderness (pronounced “zerrt-lick-kite”) as “the worst word in the German language – though only phonetically speaking of course”.
In an obituary in Die Zeit, Jens Balzer, a German pop music journalist, said Germans crowned him not only their favourite baritone singer, but also “their favourite Englishman”.
He added: “A whole generation saw in him the ideal English gentleman. A pleasant man in his middle years, always well turned out, a bit rural in attire with his brown cords and jacket … his Henriquatre beard; a self-assured, utterly calm singer whose baritone voice could never be thrown off track, even by the worst love songs.”
In one interview, Whittaker says he “showed a bird” to Horst Schmolzi, a German music manager, when he first suggested he should sing in German. “He said to me: ‘We’re going to make an album with your hits in German. The people want to know what you’re actually singing.’ That’s how we ended up making Mein Deutsches Album in 1980, and we sold millions of copies,” he recalled.
He described his last album, Wunder, in 2012 as a tribute to his German fans.
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