Roger Whittaker, ‘Durham Town’ singer and folk legend, dies aged 87

Roger Whittaker has died aged 87 (Alamy/PA)
Roger Whittaker has died aged 87 (Alamy/PA)

Roger Whittaker, one of the UK’s most celebrated folk singers, has died aged 87.

Whittaker was best known for hits including “Durham Town”, “New World In The Morning” and a version of “Wind Beneath My Wings”. He was also an expert whistler.

German media outlet Bild confirmed that the musician had died on Wednesday (13 September) in a hospital in the south of France.

“Roger was an iconic artist, a wonderful husband and father. He touched so many hearts with his music throughout his life and will always live on in our memories,” his family said in a statement.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1936 to English parents, Whittaker was raised around music. His grandfather sang in various clubs and his father played the violin; in turn, he learnt to play the guitar.

Whittaker enrolled at university in South Africa after two years of national military service in the British colonial army. He has previously said that he was “stupid, selfish and angry” as a young man, and that the army “made a man” out of him.

The late musician attributed his love of music to his childhood in Nairobi, saying in a previous interview: “In over 30 years of singing and playing musical sounds, the wonderful drumming, and those marvellous, infectious rhythms, have played a great part in everything I have ever written and sung.”

Whittaker’s song “My Land is Kenya” is still often played in the country on TV and radio during national holidays or election campaigns.

He arrived in Britain in 1959 to study zoology, biochemistry and marine biology at the University of Bangor in Wales. His first major release, “Steel Men”, entering the British charts as he sat his final degree exams.

Whittaker went on to sell close to 50 million records and received 250 platinum, gold and silver awards during his career.

Germany afforded the artist particularly high levels of fame and reputation, as he could sing and record his songs in German. He retired to France in 2012.

Tributes from across the English and German-speaking world were led by comedian and TV presenter Matt Lucas, who tweeted: “The great Roger Whittaker has passed away. I adored ‘Durham Town’ and ‘The Last Farewell’. Beautiful, warm, catchy songs. I am glad I got to see him perform live.”

Whittaker was cremated and buried in a private ceremony on Saturday (16 September).

He is survived by his wife Natalie, who he married in 1964, and their five children: Emily, Lauren, Jessica, Guy and Alexander.

Additional reporting by Press Association