Investment Firm’s Communications Director Whistles ‘Happy Birthday’ Nearly Every Day

None

Pucker power: Ullman's childhood obsession has lasted a lifetime.
National Journal
Mike Magner
See more stories about...
Mike Magner
Oct. 28, 2013, 5:44 p.m.

With the pres­id­ent of the Bank of China ar­riv­ing for a meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton hos­ted by the Carlyle Group, lead­ers of the high-powered private-equity firm had a cru­cial job for Chris­toph­er Ull­man, their dir­ect­or of glob­al com­mu­nic­a­tions.

Ull­man, who had been in­duc­ted re­cently in­to the In­ter­na­tion­al Whist­lers Hall of Fame, was tasked with whist­ling Li Liu’s fa­vor­ite song, “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme from the 1997 hit movie Ti­tan­ic.

The night be­fore the big event in Septem­ber 2012, Ull­man went to You­Tube to learn the song and prac­ticed late in­to the night at his Al­ex­an­dria, Va., home. The next day he walked in­to “an au­gust room” at the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, and an in­ter­pret­er told Li what was about to hap­pen.

Ull­man didn’t un­der­stand the Chinese, but when he heard the word “Ti­tan­ic” he watched a smile come across Li’s face. Then, as he star­ted whist­ling the song, Ull­man said he heard a sound that wasn’t sup­posed to be part of his act.

“The top banker in China was hum­ming along note for note with his hand in the air. It is ec­stasy,” Ull­man said dur­ing a per­form­ance at a TEDx Mid­At­lantic event Sat­urday at the Sid­ney Har­man Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton. “I’m think­ing, “˜Don’t screw this up; you’re go­ing to ru­in this guy’s life.’ “¦ This was the key to this man’s heart.”

“It was in­cred­ible,” Ull­man said in an in­ter­view last week­end. “I’ve been whist­ling for 45 years — in Wash­ing­ton for 26 years — and I’ve ex­per­i­enced noth­ing like it.”

Ull­man, 50, is one of the many unique per­son­al­it­ies in Wash­ing­ton who have worked their way to the top of their pro­fes­sions while nur­tur­ing and per­fect­ing a pas­sion in their private lives. Only in Ull­man’s case, his per­son­al avoca­tion has be­come a very pub­lic show­case.

It all star­ted when he was 5 years old, grow­ing up in Mas­s­apequa Park on Long Is­land, N.Y., listen­ing to his fath­er whist­ling his fa­vor­ite tunes from Gil­bert and Sul­li­van. Whist­ling be­came his ob­ses­sion to the point where, when he was 13, the cus­tom­ers on his pa­per route would tell him, “I heard you com­ing.”

Dur­ing col­lege at the State Uni­versity of New York (Bing­hamton), Ull­man ex­pan­ded his rep­er­toire to jazz and blues by whist­ling with a friend’s band. It was also at SUNY that Ull­man plugged in­to Wash­ing­ton — he in­terned in the of­fice of then-Rep. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., work­ing along­side a young An­thony Wein­er, who would go on to win sev­en terms in Con­gress.

About a year after his gradu­ation in 1986, Ull­man re­turned to Wash­ing­ton and began climb­ing the lad­der in com­mu­nic­a­tions: He worked for a small pub­lic-re­la­tions firm; for a cit­izens’ ad­vocacy group; for former Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio; for former Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion Chair­man Ar­thur Levitt; and for the White House un­der Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, as spokes­man for Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget Dir­ect­or Mitch Daniels.

Then about 12 years ago, Ull­man moved to the Carlyle Group, cofoun­ded in 1987 by Dav­id Ruben­stein and two oth­er fin­an­ci­ers and which now man­ages $180 bil­lion in as­sets, ac­cord­ing to For­bes.

Mean­while, Ull­man was rising through the ranks of the world so­ci­ety of whist­lers. While hik­ing and whist­ling (of course) in Shen­an­doah Na­tion­al Park in 1992, a friend told Ull­man about the In­ter­na­tion­al Whist­lers Con­ven­tion held each year in tiny Louis­burg, N.C. Ull­man went “and, much to my shock, I ac­tu­ally won a prize,” he said. “I knew there was hope for me. I com­peted for nine years and won the cham­pi­on­ship four times. Last year I was in­duc­ted in­to the In­ter­na­tion­al Whist­lers Hall of Fame.”

As his fame spread, Ull­man was in­vited to ap­pear on The To­night Show with Jay Leno; he whistled with the Na­tion­al Sym­phony Or­ches­tra play­ing in front of the Cap­it­ol; and these days he whistles “Happy Birth­day” to people about 350 times a year. “I end every one with the re­frain, “˜I’m glad you were born,’ “ he said.

The point is not to be a celebrity, Ull­man said. “It’s something I do for fun”¦. It’s very simple — I’m not cur­ing can­cer — but it does make people happy.” (Hence the name of Ull­man’s web­site, happy­whist­ler.com.)

Bush will vouch for that. When he was work­ing at OMB, Ull­man was told by Daniels that the pres­id­ent wanted to hear him whistle in the Oval Of­fice. When he walked in, “Bush was at his desk with his feet up and an un­lit ci­gar in his hand,” Ull­man said. “He asked, “˜Do you need some wa­ter? Do you need to stand or sit? How do you get star­ted?’ I told him, “˜I’m moist and puckered, Mr. Pres­id­ent, and ready to go.’ “

Ull­man asked Bush what kind of mu­sic he liked, and the pres­id­ent said “coun­try.” Bush sug­ges­ted the song from The Lone Ranger. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was from an Itali­an op­era,” Ull­man said.

After they were joined in the Oval Of­fice by Vice Pres­id­ent Dick Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, and At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Al­berto Gonzales, a some­what nervous Ull­man per­formed four pieces: Beeth­oven’s Fifth Sym­phony; “Take the “˜A’ Train” by Duke El­ling­ton; “Battle Hymn of the Re­pub­lic”; and “Du­el­ing Ban­jos” from the movie De­liv­er­ance.

Later, when Ull­man put out a CD of whistled songs, he sent a copy to Bush. The pres­id­ent replied with a typed mes­sage thank­ing him, in­clud­ing a hand­writ­ten note at the bot­tom: “Best al­ways to my friend the whist­ler. George Bush.”

What We're Following See More »
‘PULLING A TRUMP’
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Source:
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
22 hours ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×