Bing Crosby

Summary

Bing Crosby, whose real name Harry Lillis Crosby Jr. was born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma (Washington State) and died on October 14, 1977 in Alcobendas near Madrid, is an American singer and actor.

A major figure in American film and song from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s, he is recognized as one of the most successful artists of the twentieth century, both in his acting and singing career, including the success of his interpretation of Irving Berlin”s White Christmas (which remains the best-selling song in history), and the Oscar for Best Actor he received in 1944.

He is primarily associated with the vocal jazz, easy listening and crooning movement, a genre of which he is sometimes considered the father. During his career, he appeared in nearly 100 films, and wrote and sang more than 1700 songs.

Children and education

Bing Crosby was the fourth of seven children born to Harry Lowe Crosby and Kate Harrigan, a family with English roots through his father and Irish roots through his mother. Bing”s family had a rather modest lifestyle and in 1906 they moved to Spokane, Washington so that Bing”s father, an accountant, could find more stable employment. Legend has it that Bing got his nickname from a friend who told him what he thought of a cartoon character, Bingo, in the local newspaper, the Bingville Bugle. The nickname “Bing” became the name he used from then on.

More interested in American soccer and baseball, Bing did not shine in school but, attracted by the law, he enrolled at Gonzaga University in 1920. Despite his good academic record, Crosby was very interested in music, playing drums in a band led by the young singer Al Rinker, in which he became more and more involved. He finally gave up his law studies for his passion and his musical career was decided the summer when Al Jolson came to sing in the theater where Bing worked as a summer job; listening to him, Bing Crosby decided to become a professional singer too.

Weddings and children

Bing was married twice. His first wife, Dixie Lee, was a 21-year-old actress and nightclub singer who was better known than he was in 1928, when he met her. They were married for 22 years (1930 to 1952), with periods of separation, until Dixie”s death. The couple had four boys: Gary (1933), twins Philip and Dennis (1934) and Lindsay (1938), who lived in Los Angeles and then were sent to a boarding school run by Jesuits with strict discipline, south of San Francisco. In 1936 Dixie Lee retired from show business, but in 1950 Crosby persuaded her to appear on his show (Chesterfield Show) broadcast on December 20, her first professional radio appearance with him.

While the marriage was an opportunity for Bing Crosby to restrict his drinking, his wife Dixie Lee sank into an increasingly pronounced alcoholism, which would probably have killed her if she had not died of ovarian cancer in 1952. A film released in 1947, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (en), was inspired by her life but the couple disputed it.

Before and after Dixie Lee”s death, Bing had several relationships with famous actresses such as Grace Kelly and Inger Stevens, as well as models such as Pat Sheehan (en) (whom his son married in 1958).

He married his second wife, Kathryn Grant, in 1957, whom he met when she was twenty years old. Kathryn was an actress and former Texas beauty queen, much younger than Bing, who had auditioned for a role in White Christmas. They had three children: Harry (1958), Mary (1959) and Nathaniel (en) (1961). Mary became a television actress in the series Dallas, while Harry is best known for his role in the horror film Friday the 13th and the series The Hollywood Palace, and became an investment banker.

Bing Crosby was a great lover of hunting. He was also an avid golfer, playing every morning, and in 1937 he founded the Crosby Golf Tournament, with proceeds going to charity. To spend more time with his father, his son Nathaniel took lessons and became a professional golfer. When the teenager won a prize at his father”s Burlingame Country Club, Crosby said it was the happiest day of his life; in 1981, Nathaniel also became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship and later became a luxury real estate agent and golf equipment dealer.

An avid sportsman, Crosby became the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a major baseball team, and built a stud farm and racetrack in Del Mar, California, to breed and race thoroughbreds, but his stable won few prizes. His wife Kathryn”s great rivals remained the sports her husband played, so she took up hunting with him.

During the Second World War, Crosby contributed to the morale of the troops, in front of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Ike Eisenhower, by going to the Western Front, and by his songs which were broadcast on all the major stations in the United States or in Europe. His music and fame “had crossed the Atlantic long before the war, as far as Germany, and he recorded propaganda messages in German to the Reich”s population and troops, who nicknamed him Der Bingle.

Bing Crosby”s life was a succession of trips around the world for his entertainment shows, where Kathryn often accompanied him, and who remembers the friendship that bound her husband to the actor Bob Hope and the power of their comic chemistry even in private life. At this time, he also performs with Kathryn and their children in comedy shows on television, especially at Christmas.

Big smoker, Crosby is reached of a cancer of the lung in 1974 and undergoes a surgical operation then goes back on stage. Three years later, he fell from one of them in Los Angeles, recovered and then left to record with Fred Astaire. In March 1977, he fell in the orchestra pit during the concert for the fiftieth anniversary of his career. After leaving the hospital, he went back to sing with David Bowie and played again at the London Palladium in Great Britain in the fall of 1977.

While playing golf in Madrid, Bing Crosby died of a heart attack at the age of 74 in October 1977. His last words were his last joke: “That was a great golf game, guys… Let”s go have a Coke”.

His star on the Walk of Fame is located at number 1615 on Vine Street in Hollywood.

After Bing Crosby”s death, his son Gary, who had become an alcoholic like his other brothers, wrote a book entitled Going My Own Way (1983). This controversial book describes the physical and psychological abuse that Bing inflicted on Gary and his brothers, from humiliation to flogging, in a home plagued by their father”s dictatorship and their lonely mother”s alcoholism. Although the youngest son, Philip Crosby, tried to convince the audience that Gary was wrong and that their father had never been cruel to them but only harsh, the other two brothers Lindsay and Dennis agreed with Gary, especially Lindsay who was Bing”s favorite son; they, too, remembered Bing”s abuse of them as children.”  No one knows better,” Lindsay said. Their father had also made arrangements for his sons not to touch his inheritance money until they were 65. Bing”s debonair and carefree reputation was tarnished when, suffering from depression, his sons Lindsay and Dennis committed suicide by pistol, one in 1989 (at age 51) and the other in 1991 (at age 67).

Nathaniel in turn wrote a book about his father in 2016, whom he describes as a man who was modest about his feelings and sparing with praise, and who certainly devoted more time to them than to the Dixie boys; but so that his children would not be raised as “Hollywood kids,” he made them work hard on a ranch every vacation, so much so that they looked forward to the start of school.

Of his seven children, Crosby had fourteen grandchildren.

Bing Crosby”s professional career was divided between film, comedy and music. Bing was the host of two television and radio shows. His production company, Bing Crosby Enterprises, helped many rock and roll artists record for a small fee. He popularized the use of the microphone among singers, which allowed him to showcase his crooning voice.

Musician

As a student at Gonzaga University, he was part of a musical group, the Musicaladers. Although Bing enjoyed his classes, he became more and more interested in piano, drums and his songs. He dreams of a career in Hollywood. He played in a band called The Juicy Seven, but felt that the band did not take music as seriously as he did. This prompted him to join the Musicaladers, a group that included Al Rinker and six other members. Bing plays drums and sings, including Pretty Little Blue Eyed Sally and The End of the Road, two songs written by Fred Waring. This band differed from other bands of the time in that the members could not read music, and played all their songs from memory. The band was invited to play at school and private parties. It became famous in Spokane and the surrounding area. They were influenced by such groups as the Dixieland Jazz Band, the Memphis Five, and the Hotel Drake Orchestra. Most of their songs were modifications of the songs of these bands. The Musicaladers only changed the tempo of the songs and modified the arrangements, for example by speeding up the tempo of a song to make it more attractive and modern. The group only had thirty songs, but because of these tricks, it seems their audience never realized how small their repertoire was.

During his sophomore year of college, Bing Crosby”s band was spotted by Roy Boomer, the manager of Spokane”s Clemmer Concert Hall. Boomer was especially interested in the talent of Bing Crosby and his friend Al Rinker, and when the members of the Musicaladers began to leave the band, Rinker and Bing decided to play under Roy Boomer. Thanks to Boomer, Bing began to perform on stage: Boomer wrote the songs that Rinker and Bing sang.

In 1925, Bing left Spokane to live with his brother and Al Rinker in Hollywood. The two musicians made several appearances at the Tent Café and then with Fanchon and Marco who organized musical shows throughout California. After being hired by Fanchon and Marco, they performed in 35 venues in the state. Bing and Al liked to improvise during their shows by adding different sounds, and Bing started playing the kazoo in an aluminum can during a concert at the University of California. The audience liked this new sound because of its originality, and Bing and Al became increasingly popular.

Their performances, which usually lasted 40 minutes, were very varied. There were animals, acrobats, dancers, trampoline and various styles of music such as tango or swing. This originality contributed to the growing success of Bing and Al. Bing and Al were happy: the public loved them, they had a good contract with producers who had a very good reputation in Hollywood and they earned between $200 and $300 each week, which was a lot for the 1920s.

One night, while Bing and Al were performing at the Metropolitan in San Francisco, Paul Whiteman was listening and decided to hire them. Paul was a well-known jazz bandleader, known as the “King of Jazz. He hired Bing and Al to sing with his band in Chicago and New York. It is important to note that although Bing and Al”s performances were well received in California and Chicago, the citizens of New York did not show the same interest in this eclectic music. So, instead of continuing their duo performances, Bing and Al joined Whiteman”s choir. But Bing didn”t want to spend the rest of his career drowned out by a choir. To regain success, Whiteman suggested that Bing begin performing solo, with musical accompaniment but without Al Rinker, which he did. His first known solo songs were Ol” Man River in 1928 and Make Believe.

In 1927, Bing and Al met Harry Barris, a pianist, singer and songwriter who would be very helpful in forming a new group and writing most of its songs. Whiteman was very involved in the success of Barris, Crosby and Rinker. In 1925, the new group took the name Rhythm Boys. After a long period of performing their songs under the direction of Paul Whiteman, the group began to compose their own music. Their first song was Mississippi Mud, and was a big hit in Chicago and Seattle.

The Rhythm Boys appeared in The Jazz King, a film about Paul Whiteman, in 1930, and this appearance in a major motion picture may have later prompted Bing to launch his career as an actor and radio announcer. That same year, Bing and his band recorded the song Reaching for the Moon, further popularizing Bing”s voice. The popularity of the Rhythm Boys was so great, in part because of Bing”s voice, that other major artists in the music industry sought to record songs with them. They included such stars as Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, and Eddie Lang.

Due to some alcohol problems, the Rhythm Boys leave Paul Whiteman to work with the lesser known producer Gus Arnheim. He added singer Loyce Whiteman and tenor singer Donald Novis to the group. In 1930, the Rhythm Boys, then under contract with Brunswick Records, recorded the Three Little Words album with Duke Ellington”s big band, and dressed up as blacks during public performances with the jazzman. It was at this time that Bing”s solo career began to mature. Of the four singers, Crosby was the most likely to make the band successful. He really wanted to change the way music was perceived with his so-called “crooner” style of singing. Some time later, Bing began to play comedies with Bob Hope and his contribution to the group diminished significantly. Eventually Bing left the Rhythm Boys to embark on a solo career.

In September 1977, Bing decided to record some songs with a young musician, David Bowie. After only three rehearsals, the two singers recorded Little Drummer Boy, and later, Peace on Earth. In 1982, Little Drummer Boy reached number 3 in the UK charts. Later, Bowie appeared on Bing Crosby”s Christmas program, and it was partly through this program that Bowie gained notoriety in the United States among an audience not usually his own.

In the group led by Gus Arnheim, Bing”s voice became prominent, and he ended up being the lead singer of the group. His voice was so popular that in the early 1930s, 10 songs in the “Top 30” were sung by Bing Crosby. By 1939, Bing had 24. By then, his songs had generated $9 million in earnings, including 23 gold and platinum songs. In 1962, Bing received the Grammy Award for Achievement.

His most popular song is White Christmas, composed in 1941 by Irving Berlin. He sang it for the first time on NBC radio, on Christmas Day 1941, just a few days after the entry of the United States into the war. He recorded it in 1942 after leaving Gus Arnheim”s band and sang it in the movie Holiday Inn. This song remains number one on the charts for eleven weeks. It remains the best-selling song in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, which estimates its sales at 50 million. More than 400 popular singers will perform it worldwide after him.

In addition to money and success, Bing”s songs also won him famous awards. Sweet Leilani (1937), White Christmas (1942), Swinging on a Star (1944) and In the cool, cool, cool evening (1951) won him 4 Oscars, three of which he sang in the films himself.

During the Second World War, along with other movie stars, he participated in the Hollywood Victory Caravan in 1942, a two-week train tour across the United States to raise money for the war effort.

Bing Crosby”s style is a mixture of Tin Pan Alley and swing. He emphasizes the message of his lyrics, rather than the instrumental music. He presented a very simple singing style, mostly imitating the smooth, pianissimo quality of the baritone register. His low, soft voice allowed him to reach very low notes like low E-flat.

His style was also influenced by his use of the microphone. Bing used the microphone to create the unique crooner sound in his voice. He had to sing softly into the microphones – which were fragile at the time – to avoid saturating the sound or even breaking the microphones. Therefore, low, smooth sounds had to be used.

Bing Crosby”s original style inspired many well-known singers such as Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. He had developed a very simple and inexpensive recording style, which would be used by rock and blues bands (see the section “Technological Influence”).

Little Richard and John Lennon were inspired by Bing”s music. Little Richard wanted to use the microphone in the same way as Bing, smoothly and using smooth notes. John Lennon wrote the song Please Please Me after hearing the song Please sung by Bing Crosby. He was very intrigued by the lyrics of that song and wanted the lyrics of his song to have as much importance as Bing had given to his in his song. Lennon was so passionate about Bing”s music that he had several cases of Bing”s records in his New York apartment. Before they became world famous, the Beatles had sung a version of Bing Crosby”s song Red Sails in the Sunset.

Bob Dylan once said that you can”t find better lyrics than in the songs of Bing Crosby.

Technological influence

Bing Crosby invested a lot of money in the development of multi-track tape recordings. They were developed by Lester William Polfus, the father of the Gibson Les Paul guitar, and were marketed under the Ampex brand.

During the Bing Crosby era, the use of audio cassettes began to grow. His show on ABC was the first radio show to be recorded. Bing was very interested in the potential of audio and magnetic cassettes. This interest was mainly due to the fact that Bing was not satisfied with the quality of the recording of his voice and his broadcasts. He had to repeat each program he hosted twice, once for the West Coast of the United States and again for the East Coast. The Ampex company, partially financed by Bing Crosby, broke new ground in radio by forcing the use of these tapes on NBC and CBS stations, which revolutionized the production of radio shows.

Perhaps his most significant technological influence was his extensive use of the microphone. He used it to generate a slow, low, soft, and very restful sound – a sound that he confessed he could only create with this tool. The same sort of influence can be seen in the music of Elvis Presley, whose singing was also a combination of voice and microphone. Bing Crosby also popularized LP (Long Playing) recordings, which led to the popularization of LP records, the main means of distributing music until the arrival of audio CDs.

Actor

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made their first appearance together in vaudeville at the Capitol Theatre in New York in 1932. The combination of Hope”s physical humor and Crosby”s nonchalant nature made them a perfect pair for comedy pieces. In their musical performances, Crosby played the romantic. Compared to Hope, he was the very suave character and the one who often seduced the local women.

Between 1940 and 1962, Hope and Crosby produced seven films, the titles of the American versions of which begin with Road to: Road to Singapore, Road to Zanzibar, Road to Morocco, Road to Alaska (Road to Utopia), Road to Rio, Road to Bali, and Astronauts in Spite of Themselves (The Road to Hong Kong), all of which starred Dorothy Lamour (although leaving the lead role to Joan Collins in The Road to Hong Kong). Hope and Crosby”s characters on television and radio were men who were very vulnerable to love, who constantly sought more money, more beautiful women, and who often fought over a woman”s love. They also showed a certain talent for evading the police. These two characters were often compared to the characters in Herman Melville”s The Great Crook and Mark Twain”s Huckleberry Finn.

Prior to the 1940s, most American comedy topics were about immigrants and the various ethnicities that were slowly being established in the United States. After the 1940s, audiences were looking for more modern and original subjects, and that”s exactly what Crosby and Hope gave them. The two comedians emphasized typical American behaviors such as the pursuit of wealth, women, and social standing, and poked fun at all sorts of traditions and habits, such as prejudices and the behavior of Americans when traveling abroad.

By the time Crosby began putting on shows with Hope in the 1940s, he was already the most famous musician in the United States. His fans came to see his shows not only for the actor but also for the singer. In these vaudeville shows, he often sang ballads that told the typical story of a patriotic American. Crosby also performed jazz dance numbers, such as We”re off on the Road to Morocco. Although Crosby appeared in many different films, his most memorable character was the one he played in “Road to”.

The movie studios, during the 1930s, made the reputation and career of the actors they hired. For example, actors like Judy Garland and Gene Kelly would never have had the success they did without the promotion of MGM Studios. The same thing happened with Bing Crosby. At the beginning of his career, he was hired by Universal Studios, but he made only two films with them before signing a contract with Paramount.

At first, Paramount Studios produced only silent films or films without music. In the early 1930”s, a new era in the film industry began, and Paramount was one of the first studios to mix music and comedy, resulting in the musicals. Despite the fears of many directors and actors, the songs helped to advance the plot of the film, rather than slow it down. The songs enhanced the plot and often gave more information about the actors. Paramount”s first musical was called The Innocents of Paris, and it was because of the success of this film that Paramount decided to continue producing this new film genre.

The major problem with Bing in the movies was that he tended to think that he was the lead actor in each of his movies and that people liked him more than the other actors. This was due to Bing”s immense success in the music industry throughout his career. Although it took him a few years to accept his lack of stature in the film industry, Bing managed to become one of the most popular actors of the 20th century.

In 1932, Paramount hired Bing, and it was soon apparent that his image as a lazy, nonchalant man stuck with him in his films. On the other hand, his great musical success helped him to attract a large audience in theaters, which his directors and Paramount loved. Of course, his conversion from musician to actor had to be gradual if he was to maintain his musical audience.

The theme of most of Bing Crosby”s films was love triumphing over American class boundaries. Bing played a poor man falling in love with a rich girl or inspiring her to love him. This theme can be seen in Café Society and Midnight, two films released in 1939. But what dominated his films was his lazy character. Bing always played someone very charming and carefree: the character he showed in his musical performances too. Paramount really didn”t want to lose their audience because of the character who was a bit of a drunk and did the minimum of work in his films.

Gradually, the roles that Paramount gave Bing became more serious. In 1934, he was the main character in Broadway Bill. In 1954, he played Frank Elgin in The Country Girl, an alcoholic character who is trying to put his life back together and forget his dead son. This character represented, in a way, the serious side of Bing that Paramount wanted to show the world. They wanted to show that Bing was more than a comic musician and that he took his work seriously.

In 1944, Bing played the role of Father O”Malley in The Road to the Stars, a film that caused a sensation. The film won five Oscars, including Best Actor, which Bing won, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Story, Best Plot, and Best Song (Swinging on a Star, sung by Bing). Bing”s new, more serious persona helped to diminish the reputation as an alcoholic and woman-obsessed man that Bing had acquired over the years as a singer and comedian. Although his reputation was changed by his more serious films, Bing”s nonchalant character remained associated with him throughout his career, especially in his films with Bob Hope.

Bing”s Oscar wins also included songs from lesser known films. The songs Sweet Leilani (1937), White Christmas (1942), and In the cool, cool, cool evening (1951) were almost more popular than the films they illustrated.

Despite the fact that the majority of Bing”s films were half comedy and half music, Bing did make a few all-musical films during his film career. These films included Dixie (1943), Blue Skies (1946), and the well-known film White Christmas (1954), inspired by the musical comedy Holiday Inn in which Bing sang White Christmas.

Bing Crosby appeared in more than 70 films, which together grossed more than a billion dollars.

Bing was a guest on two NBC and CBS radio shows, including Kraft Music Hall where he stayed for 10 years, and a show featuring Carl Fenton”s orchestra. His CBS music show was taped in New York, and remained on the radio for 20 weeks in 1932. Bing became so involved with CBS radio productions that he became president in the late 1930s.

His great success on the radio earned him a role in three films in the series called The Big Broadcasts (the first dating from 1932), produced by Paramount and dealing with the greatest radio hosts. In fact, his impact as a radio guest was so great that in 1998 he was given a place in the National Radio Hall of Fame. He has also been in the Hit Parade Hall of Fame since 2007.

Most of Bing Crosby”s productions were played on the radio and helped promote his films and songs.

If Bing Crosby had a private life tinged with shadow, professionally, his talents and his business sense marked the music, radio, television and cinema until the digital era.

He wrote and sang more than 1700 songs, but his biggest success is White Christmas, which remains the best-selling single in history, with 50 million copies sold. Bing Crosby”s record sales are sometimes announced in the media at over 500 million, but this is contradicted by the Guinness Book of World Records, which states that only The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Madonna have actually sold over 335 million records.

He appeared in nearly one hundred films, was the top attraction at the Hollywood box office for five consecutive years, and hosted radio and television shows and Christmas specials for several decades.

His gold records are preserved at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington

External links

Sources

  1. Bing Crosby
  2. Bing Crosby
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