Discovered by future Elvis Presley manager Col. Tom Parker while Whitman was touring the South, Whitman -- with Parker's guidance -- landed a record deal with RCA (the same label Presley would record for after leaving Sun Records). Over the next few years, Whitman was a steady presence on the country and pop charts. He successfully crossed over in England, where his song "Rose Marie" hit No. 1 in 1954, and he joined the Grand Ol' Opry in 1955.
Whitman's musical style was snuffed with the rise of rock 'n' roll, but a few decades later his voice would again reach a mass audience. In the 1970s and early '80s, his career was revived by a landmark telemarketing campaign that blanketed the country's local stations with pitches for "All My Best," a greatest hits collection.
Geared toward the pre-Elvis generation whose baby boomer kids no longer controlled the parents' stereo, "All My Best" sales soared and drove Whitman in follow-up ads to declare himself to be "The Biggest Selling Record Star in TV Music History!" He also claimed to have sold more albums than the Beatles and Presley combined -- at least 120 million by some accounts.
Whether accurate or not, Whitman was ubiquitous for a few years, and the ads drove a renewed interest in a graceful singer whose style predates the similarly mellifluous Roy Orbison. You can hear that voice, sweet and sad, in "Cool Water" below.