David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 300: Slim Whitman (Una Paloma Blanca)

November 13, 2023

Slim Whitman was the punchline to a lot of jokes with my high school buddies in the late 1970s. Mostly this was because of the yodeling, the pencil-thin moustache, and the constant peddling of All My Best, his compilation album that saw mass T.V. marketing throughout the day and late night, but never, apparently, prime-time. It didn't help, for me, that Whitman looked a little too much like my step-grandfather, top-notch charlatan and pianist (in retrospect, I can't say for sure if the adjective should carry over to the noun "pianist").

Part of what got us idiots in an uproar were the various claims put out by the T.V. marketing: "Number One Selling Record in England for more weeks than any singer in history, even Elvis or The Beatles." Elvis? Maybe. The Beatles? Nobody ever outsold the fab four. Even if true, what did that say about the English, or the Canadians, or any other non-United States' market where he was supposedly huge? Like my step-grandfather, Whitman might have been a little too good at self-promotion, as his Wikipedia entry notes, "He claimed he had sold in excess of 120 million records, although the recorded sales figures give 70 million." At best, he seemed another lounge singer, someone hanging out with Englebert Humperdinck or Tiny Tim, so maybe all those sales were going to gullible old ladies like my grandmother.

For you young'uns who doubt the veracity of my marketing critique, here is the advertisement in all of it glory. And, yes, that is an 8-track pictured at the end of the commercial. I never thought I'd say this but, given the rediscoveries for Day 300 and Day 299 (Mick Farren), I miss the 70s.

Inevitably, one of us chowderheads would croon "una paloma blanca" as the definitive (and probably the only one we knew) Whitman song, as that song always opened the advertisement, the Spanish-influenced brass section and guitar warning us of the chorus to come. 

We didn't even know what "una paloma blanca" meant (or cared). What would we have thought if we had figured out the translation of "one white dove"? It seems pretty brazen to picture one's self as a white dove, instead of a black crow, or a scarlet tangier, or a simple blue jay. Today I learned that Whitman didn't even write "Una Paloma Blanca" so my ridicule of the metaphor can be passed on to George Baker. I also never realized that a Whitman song was featured in Mars Attacks! as the best defense against Martians (the song apparently made their heads explode), which allowed for another resurgence of popularity in the 1990s. Now, I might actually sit through that whole movie to see that (or those) scene(s). Pop Culture is a fabulous thing, isn't it?

As far as I can tell, "Una Paloma Blanca" was never a hit . . . anywhere, not in Whitman's infamously supportive England, not on a Canadian chart, not on the U.S. Country charts. How did it get elevated to such rare air, the track used to entice unsuspecting T.V. watchers into all the best of this obscure (at least in the United States) cowboy artist? I found one clip (the link below) of Whitman playing the song on what appears to be a T.V. talk show, with his son (looking so much like his dad that no DNA tests were required) introducing him. How big of a star could you have been, Slim, if you needed your son, Byron, to introduce you on a talk show? Your son seems to have partaken in the hyperbole, claiming "Una Palona Blanca" was a big hit in both England and the United States, although I can find no evidence for that claim.

And I admit I have relied almost entirely on Wikipedia to flesh out this Slim post (perhaps in more ways than one). And yet nowhere can I find out why he was called "Slim." Even just referencing him as Whitman through here momentarily sees him as Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets. Did he outsell Mark Twain? We need to find some 19th century advertisements.

He does have the same name as his father, so maybe this was the distinction between Ottis Dewey Whitman, Sr. and Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr.  "Which Ottis do you want?" cries out the bedraggled Mrs. Whitman, "the old fat one or the young slim one?" He also, while in the navy, apparently got transferred from one ship to another because he was spending too much time singing and entertaining the other sailors (and if that isn't a dangerous concept, what is?), which saved him from being on the original ship when it went down. Maybe Slim comes from his slim escape with his life.

Little did Slim know, when he died about 10 years ago, how much he meant to the lives of a small group of bored teenagers in Morgantown, West Virginia, in the 1970s. That's probably because they had no idea Mick Farren existed.

Whitman, Slim. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slim_Whitman Retrieved November 11, 2023.

Whitman, Slim. "Una Paloma Blanca." All My Best. Liberty, 1979. Link here.

Day 299: Mick Farren & The Deviants "Let's Loot The Supermarket Again Like We Did Last Summer"

Day 301: Holly Beth Vincent "King Of Fat"

See complete list here.