Whispering (song)

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Whispering sheetmusic.pdf
Illustration by Wesley Raymond De Lappe (1887–1952)
Composer(s)John Schonberger
Lyricist(s)Malvin Schonberger

"Whispering" is a popular song. "Whispering" was first published in 1920 by Sherman, Clay & Co., of San Francisco. The initial 1920 copyright and first publishing attributes the lyrics to Malvin Schonberger and the music to John Schonberger.[1]

Initial and enduring popularity[edit]

"Whispering" was most famously recorded by Paul Whiteman and his Ambassador Orchestra on August 23, 1920, for the Victor Talking Machine Company.[2] Whiteman — Denver-born, ex-navy, and self-acclaimed "King of Jazz"[3] — flourished in popularity from a series of hits beginning in 1920 with his release of "Whispering", an eleven-week U.S. No. 1 hit, which stayed 20 weeks in the charts and sold in excess of two million copies.[4]Whiteman never referred to himself as "King of Jazz" but was billed as such by managers and record producers much as Benny Goodman later would be called the "King of Swing". Both Whiteman and Goodman openly acknowledged their debt to the earlier African-American musicians and each employed Black Americans as composers, arrangers and in Goodman's case being one of the first to have a mixed stage band.

The song charted twice in the nineteen-sixties. In 1963, Irish singers the Bachelors had a hit with their version which went to the Top 20 in the UK. In 1964, after recording their hit "Deep Purple", American brother and sister singers Nino Tempo and April Stevens had a new hit with "Whispering". This version went to number eleven on the Hot 100 and number four on the Easy Listening chart.[5]

According to Allmusic, there have been over 700 versions of the song.[6] As of 2010, on the online music site www.lala.com, there were 161 listed albums or singles containing the song "Whispering". As of 2014, TJD Online, the online version of The Jazz Discography, listed 225 recording sessions, beginning with Ray Miller and his Black and White Melody Boys, who recorded it on about July 16, 1920, Okeh 4167-A. Also, as of 2014, TJD Online listed 281 recording sessions of Dizzy Gillespie's composition, "Groovin' High", a contrafact variation of "Whispering".

Compositional structure[edit]

"Whispering", originally scored in E major, is in 4
. It has a 12-bar intro, the last 4 of which is an optional vamp — then a 16-bar A-theme is followed by a 32-bar repeated chorus. The 32 bars is essentially a 16-bar B-theme played twice — or 4 times with the repeat.

Dizzy's 1945 composition, "Groovin' High", is a contrafact of "Whispering". Following a standard practice in jazz, Diz front-ran the static V7 chords with ii7 chords (a "static chord" is a chord that doesn't change), setting up a series of ii7–V7 progressions, which creates more structure for improvising. The ii7 chord has similar properties to a iv chord (as in the iv–V progression of church harmony).[7] Because "Groovin' High" was a contrafact, performers, publishers, and record companies did not have to pay royalties to the original composers. Moreover, the contrafacted rendition followed a unified bebop convention — a series of ii7V7 chord changes with a ii7–V7–I7 turnaround — for jazz artists.

Selected discography[edit]

1920 release of "Whispering" by Paul Whiteman and His Ambassador Orchestra, Victor 18690A. 1998 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee.
Recorded September 1919
Gershwin arranged this as a set of variations for piano
  • Paul Whiteman and His Ambassador Orchestra, Victor 18690-A (1920); OCLC 53866810, 5225741 [Vocalist: John Steel]
Recorded August 23, 1920, in Camden, New Jersey (audio)
Recorded in 1934 in Berlin
"Whispering", arranged by Bernhard Christensen
Male vocal quintet with piano
Ari Leschnikoff (de) (1897–1978) (tenor), Erich A. Collin (de) (1899–1961) (tenor), Harry Frommermann (de) (1906–1975) (tenor), Roman Cycowski (de) (1901–1998) (baritone), Robert Biberti (de) (1902–1985) (bass), Erwin Bootz (de) (1907–1982) (piano)
Re-release: ASV Records CDAJA 5204, Living Era (imprint); OCLC 476559281 (audio)
Recorded February 1, 1935, in New York City
"Whispering" (part of a medley)
Benny Goodman (clarinet), Lionel Hampton (vibes), Teddy Wilson (piano), Gene Krupa (drums)
Recorded December 2, 1936, in New York City
03515-1 (matrix) — "Whispering"
Goodman went on to record it 8 more times, twice in 1938, 1953, 1958, twice in 1959, 1967, and 1980
Recorded June 13, 1940, in New York City
Bunny Berigan, Jimmy Blake (trumpets); Tommy Dorsey (trombone, leader); Johnny Mince (clarinet); Fred Stulce, Hymie Schertzer (alto saxes); Don Lodice, Paul Mason (tenor saxes); Joe Bushkin (piano); Sid Weiss (bass); Buddy Rich (drums); Frank Sinatra, Pied Pipers (vocals); Sy Oliver (arranger)
051279-1 (matrix) "Whispering"
Tommy Dorsey recorded it 8 other times, once in 1933 while playing with Red McKenzie's band, 5 times in 1940, and twice in 1944
Recorded from March 24 to April 3, 1949, Hollywood, California
4322-4D-1 (matrix) – "Whispering"
Belafonte recorded this song during the first year of his recording career
Miles Davis (trumpet), Bennie Green (trombone), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Roy Haynes (drums)
Recorded January 17, 1951, in New York City
131-A (matrix) – "Whispering"[8]
Miles recorded it again in 1961; he recorded "Groovin' High" 5 times in 1948
7864 (matrix) – "Whispering"
Recorded March 8, 1951
Oscar Peterson (piano), Austin Roberts (bass)
Many re-issues; OCLC 53481796 (re-issue)
Recorded in London in 1976
"Whispering" (cover version)
Selections from this album have been released on dozens of other albums
Benny Carter (alto sax), Oscar Peterson (piano), Joe Pass (guitar), Dave Young (bass), Martin Drew (drums)
Recorded November 14, 1986, in Hollywood, California
Recorded at Capitol Recording Studios, Hollywood, California
"Groovin' High" + "Whispering"

Selected filmography[edit]


  • 1972: Music Hall of Fame inducted "Whispering" as one of the 10 historic songs.[9]

See also[edit]

The Song Is You (album), recorded 1940


Inset photo: John Steel
(image courtesy of the UCLA Archive of Popular American Music)
Lyrics by Malvin Schonberger, music by John Schonberger
© July 22, 1920; 2nd copy July 27, 1920, Class E 486556, Sherman, Clay & Co., San Francisco[11]
© Renewal 21201 July 22, 1947, by John Schonberger & Malvin Schonberger[12]
© Renewal 25563 July 28, 1947, by John Schonberger, Amelia Rose (widow of Vincent Rose), and Richard Coburn[12]
© Assigned to Miller Music Corporation July 28, 1947, by Richard Coburn and Amelia Rose (widow of the late Vincent Rose)[12]
© Claimed by Fred Fisher Music Co. to acquired the rights from John Schonberger in 1938; claim was litigated in U.S. District Court, New York[13]
The July 22, 1947, renewal attributes the music to John Schonberger and the lyrics to Malvin Schonberger[12]
The July 27, 1947, renewal attributes the music to John Schonberger and Vincent Rose and the lyrics to Richard Coburn[12]


  1. ^ "Whispering Proving; New Sherman, Clay & Co. Number Meeting With Great Success, Reports Ed. Little,", Music Trade Review, August 21, 1920, pg. 54
  2. ^ Whispering at Library of Congress, National Jukebox. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
  3. ^ Peter Clayton & Peter Gammond, Jazz: A–Z, Guinness Superlatives (1986), pps. 247–248; OCLC 15353474; ISBN 0851122817
  4. ^ Chart-Toppers of the Twenties (liner notes), ASV Records (1998); OCLC 41252439
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 240.
  6. ^ "Whispering". AllMusic. Archived from the original on August 21, 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  7. ^ "Basic Bebop Reharmonization", by Eric, www.jazzadvice.com (online publication of Eric and Forrest Wernick), Los Gatos, California, April 29th, 2011
  8. ^ 60 Years of Recorded Jazz, 1917–1877 (2nd ed., 16 vols.), by Walter Bruyninckx (1979); OCLC 6436260, 78428130
  9. ^ Billboard, May 27, 1972
  10. ^ "Whispering" (1920); UCLA Archive of Popular American Music; OCLC 224055524
  11. ^ a b c d e Catalog of Copyright Entries 1947 Renewal Registrations-Music Jan-Dec 3D Ser Vol 1 Pt 14B. p. 173.
  12. ^ "'Whispering' Now a Clamor", Billboard, September 25, 1948, pg. 18