In the spirit world, Jenifer Whisper says she is well-connected.
The 83-year-old retiree spends much of her time channeling songs from dead composers such as George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Jimi Hendrix. It’s a job she’s had since Gershwin first contacted her in the early 1970s.
“I had learned to meditate and meditated about two years, when all off a sudden, I heard a voice in my mind, ‘This is George Gershwin,’” Whisper remembers. “‘Oh, sure,’ I said, ‘As in “Rhapsody in Blue?”’ ‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘That’s who!’”
Though she was skeptical, she had a conversation with Gershwin that was all in rhyme.
“I scoffed at first and told him, ‘You’ve got the wrong person. You want my sister. She’s the musician, not me,’” she remembers saying.
George, as she calls him, was adamant.
“‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘She’s a good musician. She sings well, just like you say. But, Jenifer, you’re the one gifted with ESP, receptivity, and telepathy. You hear what we say through your ear.’”
Since then, Whisper claims she’s channeled more than 100 ditties from dead celebs, including Irving Berlin, Marilyn Monroe, and Bing Crosby. Some of the tunes are featured in Christmas Love, an original musical being performed November 30 at the Teaching of the Inner Christ metaphysical church in El Cajon.
One song, “I’ve Gotta Stuff a Turkey,” is about a mom who uses ESP to contact her kids.
Another, “The Marilyn Monroe Christmas Love Waltz,” features lyrics like “Won’t you do a Christmas love waltz with me?/ Come on/ Set my spirit free/ Spinning like a top/ We won’t ever stop/ Do a Christmas love waltz.”
Since her first collaboration with Gershwin, “Love Is All There Is,” Whisper has “composed” by humming the songs into a cassette recorder and then having them transposed.
The idea that Gershwin, Hendrix, and Marilyn Monroe are writing songs in the afterworld sounds great in (music) theory, but a listen to Whisper’s catalog suggests these great composers aren’t forging new ground after death.
Mostly, the after-death ditties sound like mid-20th century show tunes, with lyrics that overwhelmingly focus on how there is life in the afterworld.
“They wanted to write and share to everyone that no one dies,” Whisper says. “That’s the whole message to this music.”
The dead celebs aren’t helping her much, career-wise. Even though many of them died millionaires, none of them — not even Walt Disney, who gave her a new character, Buddah Mouse — have helped her sell the songs to a mass audience of living consumers.
Whisper’s composing claims also raise the legal question: If she claims a song was written by Gershwin, does his estate have legal rights to it?
Washington DC–based copyright-law specialist Joy Butler doubts whether a judge could be convinced a composition was written after death, but Whisper could be liable if one of her songs was too similar to an existing song.
In addition, telling the world a song was written by, say, Jimi Hendrix, might violate the right of publicity granted to his estate.
Dr. E. Michael Harrington, a professor at the Berklee College of Music, analyzed Whisper’s alleged Gershwin composition, “My Stars Above,” and found it to be “poorly conceived, phrased, and notated.”
“There are oddities that do not fit the beautiful melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic/structural style of Gershwin,” he said by email. “In addition...the phrase structure is often amateurish. Phrases seem too long and too short in places, and cadences arrive at the wrong place.”
Pianist Jack Nalbindian has worked with Whisper for the past decade and says he’s a fan of her music, no matter who wrote it.
“Over the years, I’ve become a believer,” he says. “At first I tried to convince her that she’s a good songwriter, but she’s not owning her talent. As time went on, she wore me down.”
Still, working with her has its challenges, especially when rewrites are needed.
“One time, Johnny Cash wanted to change a song, and I said, ‘I don’t care what Johnny Cash says, we’re done with this song!’” he laughs.
Whisper doesn’t seem too worried about whether the world believes her story. She says her celebrity friends make heaven sound like a fun place.
“Johnny Mercer calls it ‘Hollywood Heaven,’ and they’re still doing the things they like,” she says. “They do their shows. They write new music. They just have a ball. And I have seen in my mind’s eye these beautiful alabaster-like palaces on the other side just filled with composers doing their thing. Doing what they’ve always done. Just music, music, music.”
Christmas Love, an original musical featuring songs channeled through Jenifer Whisper as well as traditional Christmas tunes, will be performed Saturday, November 30, 7:30 p.m., at Teaching of the Inner Christ, 1114 North Second Street, in El Cajon (619-447-7007).