Wind Beneath My Wings Original
A Wind Beneath My Wings original from Kamahl
American songwriters Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley penned “Wind Beneath My Wings” in 1982. In 2002, this was apparently the most-played song at British funerals, and even in 2019 ranked in the top 10 funeral songs. “Wind Beneath My Wings” is Bette Midler’s signature song. But did you ever know that the “Wind Beneath My Wings” original was recorded by none other than our very own Kamahl?
Writing the song
Sometimes called “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Hero”, “Wind Beneath My Wings” is one of the greatest tearjerkers of all time. Initially conceived as a love song, it became something more universal – a tribute to all kinds of human relationships. Henley thought up the title, and Silbar loved it, especially since he was learning to fly planes at the time…
So how did Kamahl end up recording the “Wind Beneath My Wings” original and how come no-one knows about this? Well, I didn’t.
Silbar and Henley recorded a demo of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and gave it to musician Bob Montgomery, who recorded his own demo. Montgomery changed the original composition from mid-tempo to a ballad. Silbar and Henley then offered the updated song to other artists. I can’t find either of these early demos, so I looked for the first person to record “Wind Beneath My Wings” for commercial release.
I believe that person was Kamahl, who recorded the “Wind Beneath My Wings” original in 1982 for a country and western album. He dedicated the song to his wife, but didn’t go on to commercially release “Wind Beneath My Wings” because it didn’t fit with the rest of his album’s style. Later in the year, the song did appear on Kamahl’s compilation album, Always On My Mind.
Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1934 to Tamil Hindu parents, Kamahl (Kandiah Kamalesvaran) arrived in Adelaide, South Australia in 1953 to complete his higher education. Kamahl experienced loneliness and racism during his early days in Australia. But he had the support and mentor of a dear friend to get him through. That friend was Rupert Murdoch.
Kamahl came from a musical family and started performing publicly in Australia in the late 50s. He learned to sing western music by listening to the likes of Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson and William Warfield, all of whom he would meet later in his career. When he performed, the young singer went by “Kamahl” rather than his usual shortened name “Kamal”. This was to avoid Australians mispronouncing his name as “camel”.
A smooth music career
Kamahl’s highest charting Australian single was “Sounds of Goodbye”, which reached the top ten in the Kent Music Report singles chart of 1969. In 1975, “The Elephant Song” made it to number one in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Kamahl is known for his velvety-smooth voice and a repertoire consisting of pop and adult contemporary music. His music career is one of the longest in Australia, having sold more than 10 million albums throughout his career.
The “Wind Beneath My Wings” original showcases Kamahl’s fine slightly-operatic voice. Somehow the song sounds more romantic when a male sings it. Midler’s version seems to be more about friendship, but maybe that’s because it’s so intrinsically associated with the movie Beaches. Kamahl’s version is smooth, smooth, smooth. The instrumentals are more acoustic, mainly piano, whereas Midler’s version features a touch of 80s synth.
Reaction to Bette’s version
So what does Kamahl think of Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings”? Well, in August 2020 he posted the following on Twitter:
Dear Bette, @BetteMidler, Ernie Winfrey gave me ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ whilst in Nashville in 1982/83. I dedicated it to my Wife. Then U ‘stole’ it 7 Yrs later! I envied Ur Success & got Jealous & hated U but I also Admire U & Love U for who U R & what U do. Congratulations!”Kamahl
So I would say that Kamahl recorded the first version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” intended for commercial release, but the first actual commercial release was by Kenyan-born English singer Roger Whittaker.
Roger Whittaker – first commericial release
Whittaker recorded “Wind Beneath My Wings” in the same year as Kamahl, 1982. He included the song on his album of the same name. Whittaker has a different style voice than Kamahl (maybe more modern?) but both versions have nice arrangements. Excellent tearjerkers all round.
Other artists covered “Wind Beneath My Wings” in the early 80s, including Colleen Hewett, Lou Rawls (R&B version), Gladys Knight & the Pips (soulful version going by the title “Hero”) and Gary Morris. Perry Como recorded a lovely mellow version for his final studio album, Today, released in 1987. He wanted to release “Wind Beneath My Wings” as a single, but his label, RCA, refused. Como was apparently so angry, he vowed never to record for the label again.
Bette Midler version
When she first heard it, Midler wasn’t a fan of “Wind Beneath My Wings” but she agreed to record it for the soundtrack to the film Beaches. This version became the highest-charting and probably most well-known version of “Wind Beneath My Wings”. The song began to grow on Midler.
Released as a single in 1989, the song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. In 1990, it won Grammy Awards for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year. In 1991, Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” went Platinum in the United States. The song was also a worldwide hit and critically acclaimed.
One is reminded of just how powerful a pop singer Ms. Midler can be when handed the right song and an arrangement that doesn’t constrict her brash, larger-than-life personality.”Stephen Holden, New York Times
Midler has given many memorable performances of “Wind Beneath My Wings”, including a duet with Krusty the Clown in a 1993 episode of The Simpsons. In 2001, she performed the song live at the Prayer for America memorial service held at Yankee Stadium following the September 11 attacks.
Read about other unknown original ballads here.