Kenyan-born British folk singer Roger Whittaker, famous for his 1982 hit song My Land is Kenyaand expert whistling, has died aged 87.
"It is with great sadness we share the news of Roger's passing at age 87. His life, artistry and legacy has meant so much to so many all over the world," his friend, Jesse Waggoner, posted on Whittaker's Facebook pageon Monday.
"We are thankful that the gift of his music remains with us."
A family statement and his official website, rogerwhittaker.com, confirmed that the multi-lingual singer died on September 13, 2023 in a hospital in southern France where he settled after an illustrious career spanning over half a century.
“Roger was an iconic artiste, a wonderful husband and father. He touched so many hearts with his music throughout his life and will always live on in our memories,” the family statement said.
His death comes barely a month after his Facebook page announced that he had been taken ill. He had been receiving medical treatment and care in hospital.
Reports indicate Whittaker, whose trademark was the Henri Quatre beard, suffered a stroke from which he never recovered.
On the day he breathed his last, doctors tried in vain to save his life, German media report. The pop legend suffered poor health in his sunset years, including heart and stomach problems, and he had to undergo surgery several times.
Whittaker is a household name among Kenya's folk and country music lovers, courtesy of his My Land is Kenya masterpiece.
In a poignant tribute to the nation of Kenya, Whittaker reveals his deep love and connection to his country of birth as he celebrates its beauty and splendour, its people, their cultures and historical heritage — including their bloody independence struggle against the British.
“This melodious masterpiece captures the heart and soul of Kenya, evoking a sense of pride and unity among its listeners,” Jennifer Bell writes in The Meaning Behind The Song.
“The lyrics paint a vivid picture of Kenya’s breathtaking landscapes… It encapsulates the rich diversity of wildlife, highlighting Kenya’s position as a jewel of natural beauty. Whittaker’s smooth vocals bring to life the imagery of roaring lions, graceful giraffes, and shimmering."
One line in the chorus, “you'll always stay with me here in my heart,” repeated after each stanza, serves as a reminder to the Kenyan diaspora that wherever they go, Kenya is undoubtedly their home.
“The song’s uplifting melody and heartfelt lyrics inspire a sense of unity and pride among Kenyans, reinforcing the idea that Kenya is not just a land but a deeply cherished home," says Bell.
He sold nearly 50 million records around the world, his website said, and proceeded to receive 250 platinum, gold and silver awards during his career, before retiring to France in 2012.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1936 to English parents, Viola and Edward Whittaker from Staffordshire, England, Whittaker enrolled at University in South Africa after two years of national service in Kenya.
He later enrolled for a medical course in the UK but dropped out after a year, choosing to focus on his musical career, which took him to France and Germany among other European countries.
Whittaker was cremated and buried in a private ceremony on Saturday, Bild.de, a German news outlet,reported.
He is survived by his wife Natalie O'Brien and their five children — Emily, Lauren, Jessica, Guy and Alexander Whittaker.