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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Fact 21. David Whitfield was first UK million seller artist in USA.

David Whitfield was born in Hull 2-Feb-1925 the third of eight children. He started singing at St Peter's Church Choir. After leaving school he had several jobs but on the outbreak of WWII he volunteered as a cycle messenger around the city at the height of the Blitz. At 17 he joined the Royal Navy as a Seaman Gunner. He was at the D Day landings and afterwards went out to the Fare East. After the war was over he remained in the Fare East and it was there that he entertained the armed forces in various concerts. He returned to Hull in 1949 and quickly entered a talent contest in Southampton. He was disqualified as the rules stated that he had to finish his act but the applause was so loud before the end that the judges never heard the end of it!

He then entered 'Opportunity Knocks' On Radio Luxemborg and won easily. We then toured with the show for eight months and sang on the Radio. After the tour he returned to Hull and had to start as a coal man and then as a concrete labourer. He carried on singing in clubs etc and married his girl friend Shelia in 1951. Hugie Green from the 'Opportunity Knocks' show got him a slot in a show at the Washington Hotel in London. He stormed it and his career was off.

A young David Whitfield (right) in his navy uniform, meeting a young Hughie Green (left) in a Radio Luxembourg studio
Hughie Green and David Whitfield in 1950.

In 1953 David Whitfield had a series of hits and the numbers sold were remarkable as there was very little money around to purchase records then compared with the rock and roll era later. That year he sand 'I believe' at the International Song Contest in Belgium. This was the fore runner of the Eurovision Song Contest, and he won. 

A young David Whitfield at the height of his fame.

All the time he was appearing in shows and revues to great reviews. In 1954 he released his greatest remembered hit 'Cara Mia'. He sold a million records and won a gold disc. He appeared on the Royal Variety Performance too. The record did very well in the USA and Canada and he was invited on the Ed Sullivan Show. The reaction was fantastic and he was invited back a further six times. No UK artist has ever been invited more. He was the most successful UK artist in the USA before Rock and Roll. He was the first UK vovalist to get a gold disc in the UK and the third ever. (You had to sell a million in those days). He was the first UK singer to sell a million copies of a record in the USA. 'Cara Mia' was ten weeks at No.1 and so was one of only six artists to have a record in the charts over ten weeks.

David Whitfield continued to live in Hull.

He had a Hollywood screen test and passed but turned down the work as he would have to live in America and was worried that he would never get work in the UK again, and he loved his country and city too. He did appear in musicals though and was very successful. He continued to tour all over the world and had hit records into the 1960. On his 13th tour of Australia, and on the day before he was due to return home from Sydney he died of a brain haemorrhage 16-Jan-1980. His ashes were returned to Hull and were scattered off Spurn Point from HMS Sirius.

On 31-Aug-2012 a staue of David Whitfield was unveiled situated outside the New Theatre. It was made by Graham Ibbeson who also designed the Eric Morecombe statue and cost £50,000 that was raised by the David Whitfield Appreciation Society.

A man with a golden voice that gave up a career in American films to live in Hull. What a hero, what a singer.

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