The Last Farewell. Roger Whittaker.
“The Last Farewell” is a song from 1971 by the British folk singer Roger Whittaker. Whittaker hosted a radio programme in The United Kingdom in 1971, backed by a full orchestra with arrangements by Zack Lawrence. Whittaker is quoted as saying that “one of the ideas I had was to invite listeners to send their poems or lyrics to me and I would make songs out of them. We got a million replies, and I did one each week for 26 weeks.” Ron A. Webster, a silversmith from Birmingham, England, sent Whittaker his poem entitled “The Last Farewell”, and this became one of the selections to appear on the radio programme. It was subsequently recorded and featured on Whittaker's 1971 album New World in the Morning (A Special Kind of Man in the US and Canada). Although the song failed to reach the music charts then, it is one of the fewer than forty all-time singles to have sold 10 million (or more) physical copies worldwide.
According to Whittaker, the wife of a program director for a radio station in Atlanta, Georgia, was travelling in Canada, in 1975, and heard Whittaker's four-year-old recording on the radio. When she returned to the United States, she asked her husband to play it on the station. After he played the song a few times, listeners began calling the station to find out more about the song and singer, and soon thereafter “The Last Farewell” was on its way onto the charts. The single reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 19 in June 1975, the only single of Whittaker's career to appear on the Hot 100. It also went to number 1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart.
The response in America led the single to achieve success in other parts of the world, including in The United Kingdom, where it reached number 2 on the UK Singles Chart. It was kept from number 1 in the UK by Rod Stewart's “Sailing” - to date, this is the only occasion on which the top 2 songs in the British singles chart have both had a nautical theme. “The Last Farewell” also went to number 1 in 11 other countries and sold an estimated 11 million copies worldwide, making it by far Whittaker's best-known song around the world.
Whittaker has stated that he feels much of the appeal of “The Last Farewell” comes from the classical-sounding nature of the opening French horn solo. This arrangement was done by Lawrence for the song's initial airing on Whittaker's radio programme.
For a time in the late 1970s, up until about 1981, WGN-TV used that introductory fanfare in its station identification.
The song has since been covered by many artists. In 1976, Elvis Presley included “The Last Farewell” on his album, From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee. This version was released as a posthumous single in the UK in 1984, where it reached number 48 in December.
Also reaching the UK pop charts with a version of “The Last Farewell” was the Marine Band of HMS Ark Royal, just before the aircraft carrier was decommissioned by the Royal Navy in December 1978. It topped out at number 41 in January 1979.
Four Jacks and a Jill recorded a version from the perspective of a woman seeing a soldier off on a troop train.