In her prolific career, singer Margaret Whiting recorded 500 songs, including such signature hits as "It Might as Well Be Spring," "That Old Black Magic" and "Baby It's Cold Outside."
Along with such legends as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, Whiting was regarded as one of the premiere interpreters of what is known as the Great American Songbook — songs written by such renowned composers and lyricists of the 20th century as George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting, Margaret's father.
On Wednesday, the Paley Center for Media shines a spotlight on the singer, who died in 2011 at 86, with "It Might as Well Be Spring: A Salute to Margaret Whiting." The tribute in Beverly Hills ushers in a tuneful new Paley series, "The Great American Songbook on Television." The organizers hope to have four to six such events at the Paley this year, although no future dates or subjects have been selected.
The salute features a panel discussion with the singer's daughter, Debbi Whiting, and several performers who worked with her, including Rose Marie, Jack Jones and Peter Marshall.
"When you hear Margaret Whiting interpreting a song, you are getting a definitive rendition of a song performed by a master," said Rene Reyes, director of public programs and festivals at the Paley. "Her voice is so clear. She had such a direct relationship with her listeners."
The event also makes extensive use of the Paley's vast TV, radio and Internet archive. "Looking at Margaret Whiting's work on television, we found these little gems," said Reyes.
There will be clips of Whiting's performances on TV variety series such as "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Kraft Music Hall," as well as episodes of "Those Whiting Girls," the CBS sitcom starring Whiting and her sister, Barbara Whiting. The show was a summer replacement series for "I Love Lucy" in 1955 and 1957.
Reyes noted that one of the clips is a Jan. 23, 1968, episode of "The Mike Douglas Show" featuring Whiting, Mercer, the singing duo Sandler and Young, actress Stella Stevens and Richard Nixon, a week before he announced his candidacy for president.
Debbi Whiting said that her mother learned everything from her father, who died when she was just 13. "The moment he would come home from the studios, she would rush to him and said, 'Play me what you wrote today,' and she would learn it," said Whiting.
Richard also gave Margaret two rules: "Sing the song the way the songwriter wrote it and appreciate all forms of music," said Whiting.
That appreciation kept her career flourishing even when musical tastes were changing in the 1960s. "She was able to take a genre of music like country and really understand it," said Whiting. "It was surprising to everybody when she had her second No. 1 with the country song 'Wheel of Hurt."'
The songwriter most closely associated with Whiting is Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to Oscar-winning tunes "Days of Wine and Roses" and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening."
Mercer had collaborated with Richard Whiting on several songs, including "Too Marvelous for Words." When Richard died, Mercer took Margaret under his wing. As a teenager, she appeared on his radio show, and in 1942, Whiting was one of the first artists he signed to Capitol Records, which he co-founded.
But it took Mercer more than a year to find the right song to begin Whiting's recording career. "He said, 'Grow up and keep practicing,'" said Debbi Whiting. "'I will let you know when you are going to record.'"
One day, Mercer called and told her he chose "My Ideal," which was composed by her father and Newell Chase with lyrics by Leo Robin. He told her "it will be perfect."
Mercer's hunch was right. "It was No. 1 and it was perfect," said Whiting.
The Great American Songbook on Television: 'It Might as Well Be Spring: A Salute to Margaret Whiting'
Where: The Paley Center for Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills
When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Admission: $15 general public, $10 for Paley members