Ms. Whiting came from a very musical family, with her father as a successful songwriter and her aunt a recording artist. Growing up, her home was a gathering place for composers like Jerome Kern and Gus Kahn, and she was often called upon to sing. She was given an early boost when songwriter Johnny Mercer, a collaborator with her father, heard her voice when she was only seven. When Ms. Whiting's father died, Mercer took her under his wing; when he started Capitol Records in 1942, he signed the teenage Ms. Whiting. Her early hit recordings included "That Old Black Magic" with Freddie Slack and His Orchestra; "Moonlight in Vermont" with Billy Butterfield's Orchestra.
As her popularity faded, Ms. Whiting relaxed into a cabaret career, performing at Freddy's Supper Club, Arci's Place, The Oak Room and Michael's Pub. She received a burst of renewed attention when she starred in the Johnny Mercer revue Dream on Broadway in 1997.