Born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., he is one of the best-selling and most influential artists in country music history and yet at the same time is one of the most unrecognized by the American public at large. Growing up, Whitman liked the country music of Jimmie Rodgers that he was hearing on the radio but did not embark on a musical career until the end of World War II after he had served in the South Pacific with the United States Navy.
Whitman is a self taught left-handed guitarist. Whitman is right-handed, but he lost almost all of the second finger on his left hand in an accident. Ottis Whitman worked at a shipyard in Tampa while developing a musical career, eventually performing with a band known as the "Variety Rhythm Boys". Whitman's first big break came when agent Colonel Tom Parker heard him singing on the radio and offered to represent him. Signed with RCA Records, he was billed as the cowboy singer, "Slim Whitman" and released his first single in 1948. He toured and sang at a variety of venues including on the popular radio show, the Louisiana Hayride.
Nevertheless, he was not able to make a living from music and had to keep a part-time job. That changed in the early 1950s after he recorded a version of the Bob Nolan hit "Love Song of the Waterfall" that made it into the country music Top 10 chart. His next single, "Indian Love Call", was even more successful, going to the No.2 position.
A yodeler, Whitman avoided the "down on yer luck-buried in booze" songs, preferring instead to sing laid-back romantic melodies about simple life and love. Critics dubbed his musical style "countrypolitan," due to its fusion of country music and a more sophisticated crooner vocal style.
In 1955, in the United Kingdom, he had a No.1 hit on the pop music charts with "Rose Marie". With eleven weeks at the top of the charts, the song set a record that lasted for thirty-six years. Soon after recording this big hit, Whitman was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry and in 1957, along with other musical stars, he appeared in the film musical, Jamboree. Despite this exposure, he never achieved the level of stardom in the United States that he did in Britain, where he had a number of hits during the 1950s and 60s. Throughout the early 1970s, he continued to record and was a guest on Wolfman Jack's musical television show, The Midnight Special. At the time, Whitman's recording efforts were yielding only minor hits and in 1974, he stopped making new records.
In 1979, Whitman filmed a TV commercial to support Suffolk Marketing's release of a greatest hits compilation, titled All My Best, which went on to be the best-selling TV-marketed record in music history, with almost 1.5 million units sold. Just For You (also under the Suffolk umbrella), followed in 1980, with a commercial that claimed Whitman "was number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles". The Best followed in 1982, with Whitman concluding his TV marketing with Best Loved Favorites in 1989, and 20 Precious Memories in 1991. During this time he would tour Europe and Australia with moderate success.
In late January 2008, a false rumor of Mr. Whitman's death spread through the Internet, believed to have been started by an erroneous report posted on the website of the Nashville Tennessean newspaper