One of the first multimedia stars, from 1934 to 1954 Bing Crosby held a nearly unrivaled command of record sales, radio ratings, and motion picture grosses. He is cited among the most popular musical acts in history and is currently the most electronically recorded human voice in history. Crosby is also credited as being the major inspiration for most of the male singers of the era that followed him, including Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dean Martin. Yank magazine recognized Crosby as the person who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and, during his peak years, around 1948, polls declared him the "most admired man alive," ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII. Also during 1948, the Music Digest estimated that Crosby recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music. Clarinetist Artie Shaw described Crosby as "the first hip white person born in the United States.
Crosby exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. In 1947, he invested US$50,000 in the Ampex company, which developed the world's first commercial reel-to-reel tape recorder, and Crosby became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings on magnetic tape. He gave one of the first Ampex Model 200 recorders to his friend, musician Les Paul, which led directly to Paul's invention of multitrack recording. Along with Frank Sinatra, he was one of the principal backers behind the famous United Western Recorders studio complex in Los Angeles.
In 1962, Crosby was the first person to receive the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Crosby is one of the few people to have three stars on the walk of fame
He was the fourth of seven children: five boys, Larry (1895–1975), Everett (1896–1966), Ted (1900–1973), Harry 'Bing' (1903–1977), and Bob (1913–1993); and two girls, Catherine (1905–1988) and Mary Rose (1907–1990). His parents were English-American Harry Lincoln Crosby (1870–1950), a bookkeeper, and Irish-American Catherine Helen (affectionately known as Kate) Harrigan (1873–1964) who was the daughter of Canadian born parents Dennis and Catherine Harrigan. Bing's great-grandfather and great-grandmother, who were also called Dennis and Catherine came from Schull ,County Cork in Ireland. His paternal ancestors, Thomas Prence and Patience Brewster, were born in England and immigrated to the U.S. in the 17th century; Brewster's family came over on the Mayflower.
In 1910, Crosby was forever renamed. The six-year-old Harry Lillis discovered a full-page feature in the Sunday edition of the Spokesman-Review, "The Bingville Bugle." The "Bugle," written by humorist Newton Newkirk, was a parody of a hillbilly newsletter complete with gossipy tidbits, minstrel quips, creative spelling, and mock ads. A neighbor, 15-year-old Valentine Hobart, shared Crosby's enthusiasm for "The Bugle," and noting Crosby's laugh, took a liking to him and called him "Bingo from Bingville." The last vowel was dropped and the name shortened to "Bing," which stuck.
In 1917, Crosby took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium," where he witnessed some of the finest acts of the day, including Al Jolson, who held Crosby spellbound with his ad-libbing and spoofs of Hawaiian songs. Crosby would later say, "To me, he was the greatest entertainer who ever lived."
In the fall of 1920, Bing enrolled in the Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, with the intention of becoming a lawyer. He maintained a B+ average. Bing was a prankster. School lore says he once pushed a piano off the top of a dormitory, a story that is apocryphal, since he left school the year before the dormitory was built.
While at Gonzaga, he sent away for a set of mail-order drums. After much practice, he soon became good enough and was invited to join a local band made up of mostly local high school kids called the "Musicaladers," managed by Al Rinker. He made so much money doing this that he decided to drop out of school during his final year to pursue a career in show business.
As popular as the Crosby and Rinker duo was, Whiteman added another member to the group, pianist and aspiring songwriter Harry Barris. Whiteman dubbed them The Rhythm Boys, and they joined the Whiteman vocal team, working and recording with musicians Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Eddie Lang and singers Mildred Bailey and Hoagy Carmichael.
Crosby soon became the star attraction of the Rhythm Boys, not to mention Whiteman's band, and in 1928 had his first number one hit, a jazz-influenced rendition of "Ol' Man River." However, his repeated youthful peccadilloes and growing dissatisfaction with Whiteman forced him, along with the Rhythm Boys, to leave the band and join the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. During his time with Armheim, The Rhythm Boys were increasingly pushed to the background as the vocal emphasis focused on Bing. Fellow member of The Rhythm Boys Harry Barris wrote several of Crosby’s subsequent hits including "At Your Command," "I Surrender, Dear," and "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams"; however, shortly after this, the members of the band had a falling out and split, setting the stage for Crosby's solo career. In 1931, he signed with Brunswick Records and recording under Jack Kapp and signed with CBS Radio to do a weekly 15 minute radio broadcast; almost immediately he became a huge hit.
As the 1930s unfolded, it became clear that Bing was the number one man, vocally speaking. Ten of the top 50 songs for 1931 either featured Bing solo or with others. Apart from the short-lived "Battle of the Baritones" with Russ Columbo, "Bing Was King," signing long-term deals with Jack Kapp's new record company Decca and starring in his first full-length features, 1932's The Big Broadcast, the first of 55 such films in which he received top billing. He appeared in a total of 79 pictures.
Around this time, Bing made his solo debut on radio, co-starring with The Carl Fenton Orchestra on a popular CBS radio show and by 1936, replacing his former boss, Paul Whiteman, as the host of NBC's Kraft Music Hall, a weekly radio program where he would remain for the next ten years. As his signature tune he used "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)" which also showcased his whistling skill.
He was thus able to take popular singing beyond the kind of "belting" associated with a performer like Ali Schuette, who had to reach the back seats in New York theatres without the aid of the microphone. With Crosby, as Henry Pleasants noted in The Great American Popular Singers, something new had entered American music, something that might be called "singing in American," with conversational ease. The oddity of this new sound led to the epithet "crooner."
Crosby gave great emphasis to live appearances before American troops fighting in the European Theater. He also learned how to pronounce German from written scripts and would read them in propaganda broadcasts intended for the German forces. The nickname "der Bingle" for him was understood to have become current among German listeners, and came to be used by his English-speaking fans. In a poll of U.S. troops at the close of WWII, Crosby topped the list as the person who did the most for G.I. morale, beating out President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower, and Bob Hope.
Crosby's biggest musical hit was his recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," which he introduced through a 1942 Christmas-season radio broadcast and the movie Holiday Inn. Bing's recording hit the charts on 3 October 1942, and rose to #1 on 31 October, where it stayed for 11 weeks. In the following years, Bing's recording hit the Top 30 pop charts another 16 times, even topping the charts again in 1945 and January 1947. The song remains Bing's best-selling recording, and the best-selling single and best-selling song of all time. In 1998, after a long absence, his 1947 version hit the charts in Britain, and as of 2006 remains the North American holiday-season standard. According to Guinness World Records, Bing Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" has "sold over 100 million copies around the world, with at least 50 million sales as singles.
By the late 1950s, Crosby's popularity had peaked, and the adolescence of the baby boom generation began to affect record sales to younger customers. In 1960, Crosby starred in High Time, a collegiate comedy with Fabian and Tuesday Weld that foretold the emerging gap between older Crosby fans and a new generation of films and music.
Crosby rendered the difference between the two irrelevant. Where earlier recording artists had displayed strictly one-dimensional attitudes, Crosby not only perfected the fully rounded persona, but brought with it the technical ability of a true concert artist. Crosby projected with a majestic sense of intonation that afforded Tin Pan Alley the musical stature of European classics and a jazz influenced time that made him both the dominant voice of both the Jazz age and the Swing era.
Crosby also elaborated on a further idea of Al Jolson's, one that Frank Sinatra would ultimately extend further: phrasing, or more specifically, the art of making a song's lyric ring true. "I used to tell (Sinatra) over and over," said Tommy Dorsey, "there's only one singer you ought to listen to and his name is Crosby. All that matters to him is the words, and that's the only thing that ought to for you, too."
The greatest trick of Crosby’s virtuosity was covering it up. It is often said that Crosby made his singing and acting "look easy," or as if it were no work at all: he simply was the character he portrayed, and his singing, being a direct extension of conversation, came just as naturally to him as talking, or even breathing. Journalist Donald Freeman said of Crosby, "There is only one Bing Crosby and — the time has come now to face the issue squarely — he happens to be that unique, awesome creature, an artist."
For 15 years (1934, 1937, 1940, 1943-1954), Crosby was among the top 10 in box office draw, and for five of those years (1944-49) he was the largest in the world. He sang four Academy Award-winning songs — "Sweet Leilani" (1937), "White Christmas" (1942), "Swinging on a Star" (1944), "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (1951) — and won an acting Oscar for Going My Way (1944).
He also collected 23 gold and platinum records in his career, according to Joseph Murrells, author of the book, "Million Selling Records." It should be noted that the Recording Industry Association of America did not institute its gold record certification program until 1958, by which point Crosby's record sales were barely a blip, so gold records prior to that year were awarded by an artist's record company. Universal Music, current owner of Crosby's Decca catalog, has never requested RIAA certification for any of his hit singles.
In 1962, Crosby became the first recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been inducted into the respective halls of fame for both radio and popular music. His overall music sales are estimated at between 500,000,000 (five hundred million) to 900,000,000 (nine hundred million). Bing is a member of that exclusive club of the biggest record sellers that include Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and The Beatles.
In 2007, Bing Crosby was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
The live production of radio shows was a deeply-established tradition reinforced by the musicians' union and ASCAP. The Mutual network, on the other hand, had pre-recorded some of its programs as early as the Summer 1938 run of The Shadow with Orson Welles. The new ABC network, formed out of the sale of the old NBC Blue network in 1943 to Edward Noble, the "Lifesaver King," was willing to join Mutual in breaking the tradition. It would pay Crosby $30,000 per week to produce a recorded show every Wednesday sponsored by Philco. He would also get $40,000 from 400 independent stations for the rights to broadcast the 60-minute show that was sent to them every Monday on three 16-inch lacquer/aluminum discs that played 10 minutes per side at 33⅓ rpm.
Crosby wanted to change to recorded production for several reasons. The legend that has been most often told is that it would give him more time for his golf game. And he did record his first Philco program in August 1947 so he could enter the Jasper National Park Invitational Golf Tournament in September when the new radio season was to start. But golf was not the most important reason.
Crosby was always an early riser and hard worker. He sought better quality through recording, not more spare time. He could eliminate mistakes and control the timing of performances. Because his own Bing Crosby Enterprises produced the show, he could purchase the latest and best sound equipment and arrange the microphones his way; mic placement had long been a hotly-debated issue in every recording studio since the beginning of the electrical era. No longer would he have to wear the hated toupee on his head previously required by CBS and NBC for his live audience shows (Bing preferred a hat). He could also record short promotions for his latest investment, the world's first frozen orange juice to be sold under the brand name Minute Maid.
The transcription method had problems, however. The acetate surface coating of the aluminum discs was little better than the wax that Edison had used at the turn of the century, with the same limited dynamic range and frequency response.
In June 1947, Murdo MacKenzie of Bing Crosby Enterprises saw a demonstration of the German Magnetophon that Jack Mullin had brought back from Radio Frankfurt with 50 reels of tape at the end of the war. This machine was one of the magnetic tape recorders that BASF and AEG had built in Germany starting in 1935. The ½-inch ferric-coated tape could record 20 minutes per reel of high-quality sound. Alexander M. Poniatoff ordered his Ampex company (founded in 1944 from his initials A.M.P. plus the starting letters of "excellence") to manufacture an improved version of the Magnetophone.
Bing Crosby hired Mullin and his German machine to start recording his Philco show in August 1947 with the same 50 reels of Farben magnetic tape that Mullin had found at a radio station at Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt while working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The crucial advantage was editing. As Bing wrote in his autobiography, "By using tape, I could do a thirty-five or forty-minute show, then edit it down to the twenty-six or twenty-seven minutes the program ran. In that way, we could take out jokes, gags, or situations that didn't play well and finish with only the prime meat of the show; the solid stuff that played big. We could also take out the songs that didn't sound good. It gave us a chance to first try a recording of the songs in the afternoon without an audience, then another one in front of a studio audience. We'd dub the one that came off best into the final transcription. It gave us a chance to ad lib as much as we wanted, knowing that excess ad libbing could be sliced from the final product. If I made a mistake in singing a song or in the script, I could have some fun with it, then retain any of the fun that sounded amusing."
Mullin's 1976 memoir of these early days of experimental recording agrees with Bing's account: "In the evening, Crosby did the whole show before an audience. If he muffed a song then, the audience loved it — thought it was very funny — but we would have to take out the show version and put in one of the rehearsal takes. Sometimes, if Crosby was having fun with a song and not really working at it, we had to make it up out of two or three parts. This ad lib way of working is commonplace in the recording studios today, but it was all new to us."
Crosby invested US$50,000 in Ampex to produce more machines. In 1948, the second season of Philco shows was taped with the new Ampex Model 200 tape recorder (introduced in April) using the new Scotch 111 tape from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) company. Mullin explained that new techniques were invented on the Crosby show with these machines: "One time Bob Burns, the hillbilly comic, was on the show, and he threw in a few of his folksy farm stories, which of course were not in Bill Morrow's script. Today they wouldn't seem very off-color, but things were different on radio then. They got enormous laughs, which just went on and on. We couldn't use the jokes, but Bill asked us to save the laughs. A couple of weeks later he had a show that wasn't very funny, and he insisted that we put in the salvaged laughs. Thus the laugh-track was born." Crosby had launched the tape recorder revolution in America. In his 1950 film Mr. Music, Bing Crosby can be seen singing into one of the new Ampex tape recorders that reproduced his voice better than anything else. Also quick to adopt tape recording was his friend Bob Hope, who would make the famous "Road to..." films with Bing and Dorothy Lamour.
Mullin continued to work for Crosby to develop a videotape recorder. Television production was mostly live in its early years, but Crosby wanted the same ability to record that he had achieved in radio. The Fireside Theater, sponsored by Procter and Gamble, was his first television production for the 1950 season. Mullin had not yet succeeded with videotape, so Crosby filmed the series of 26-minute shows at the Hal Roach Studios. The "telefilms" were syndicated to individual television stations.
Crosby did not remain a television producer but continued to finance the development of videotape. Mullin would demonstrate a blurry picture on December 30 1952, but he was not able to solve the problem of high tape speed. It was the Ampex team led by Charles Ginsburg that made the first videotape recorder. Rather than speeding tape across fixed heads at 100 ips, Ginsburg used rotating heads to record at a slant on tape moving at only 15 ips. The quadruplex scan model VR-1000 was demonstrated at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Chicago on April 14 1956, and was an immediate success. Ampex made $4 million in sales during the NAB convention. Ampex developed a color videotape system in 1958 and recorded the spirited debate (dubbed the "Kitchen Debate") between Khrushchev and Nixon on a demonstration model at the Moscow trade Fair September 25 1959. By this time, Crosby had sold his videotape interests to the 3M company and no longer played the role of tape recorder pioneer. Yet his contribution had been crucial. He had opened the door to Mullin's machine in 1948 and financed the early years of the Ampex company. The rapid spread of the tape recorder revolution was in no small measure caused by Crosby's efforts.
The decade following the end of World War II witnessed what has been called the "revolution in sound." The Decca Company introduced FFRR 78 rpm records (Full Frequency Range Recording) that had the finest frequency response (80-15,000 cps) of any recording process before magnetic tape recording. Decca's method of reducing the size of the groove and designing a delicate elliptical stylus to track on the sides of the groove would be the same innovation of the new microgroove process introduced by Columbia in 1948 on the new 33⅓ rpm LP vinyl record. Crosby's sponsor Philco would join Columbia in selling a new $29.95 record player with jeweled stylus (not steel) tracking at only 10 grams (not 200) for these LPs. No longer would records wear out after 75 plays. Crosby's Ampex Company would be joined by Magnecord, Webcor, Revere, and Fairchild in selling one million tape recorders to a rapidly growing consumer audio component market by 1953. The 1949 Magnecord tape recorder had stereo capability eight years before any vinyl record had it. These components soon began to feature the transistor invented by Bell Labs in 1948. Crosby's 1942 film Holiday Inn (where he first sang his most famous song) would be remade in 1954 as White Christmas, the first film to use Paramount's new VistaVision wide-screen film process with multi-channel magnetic sound.
Crosby and Lindsay Howard formed Binglin Stable to race and breed thoroughbred horses at a ranch in Moorpark in Ventura County, California. They also established the Binglin stock farm in Argentina, where they raced horses at Hipódromo de Palermo in Palermo, Buenos Aires. Binglin stable purchased a number of Argentine-bred horses and shipped them back to race in the United States. On August 12 1938, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosted a $25,000 winner-take-all match race won by Charles S. Howard's Seabiscuit over Binglin Stable's Ligaroti. Binglin's horse Don Bingo won the 1943 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
The Binglin Stable partnership came to an end in 1953 as a result of a liquidation of assets by Crosby in order to raise the funds necessary to pay the federal and state inheritance taxes on his deceased wife's estate.
A friend of jockey Johnny Longden, Crosby was a co-owner with Longden's friend Max Bell of the British colt Meadow Court, who won the 1965 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Irish Derby. In the Irish Derby's winner's circle at the Curragh, Crosby sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
Crosby reportedly overindulged in alcohol in his youth, and may have been dismissed from Paul Whiteman's orchestra because of it, but he later got a handle on his drinking. A 2001 biography of Crosby by Village Voice jazz critic Gary Giddins says that Louis Armstrong's influence on Bing "extended to his love of marijuana." Bing smoked it during his early career when it was legal and "surprised interviewers" in the 1960s and 70s by advocating its decriminalization, as did Armstrong. According to Giddins, Bing told his son Gary to stay away from alcohol ("It killed your mother") and suggested he smoke pot instead. Gary said, "There were other times when marijuana was mentioned and he'd get a smile on his face." Gary thought his father's pot smoking had influenced his easy-going style in his films. Crosby also smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until his second wife made him stop. He finally quit smoking his pipe and cigars following lung surgery in 1974.
Bing Crosby had an interest in sports. From 1946 until the mid-1960s, Crosby was part-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and helped form the nucleus of the Pirates' 1960 championship club. In 1978, he and Bob Hope were voted the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.
Following his recovery from a life-threatening fungal infection of his right lung in 1974, Crosby emerged from semi-retirement to produce several notable albums and concert tours. In March 1977, after videotaping a concert for CBS to commemorate his 50th anniversary in show business, Crosby backed off the stage into an orchestra pit, rupturing a disc in his back that required a month of hospitalization. In his first performance after the accident and his last American concert, on August 16 1977 in Concord, California, the power went out, and he continued singing without amplification. In September, Crosby, his family, and singer Rosemary Clooney began a concert tour of England that included two weeks at the London Palladium. While in England, Crosby recorded his final album, Seasons, and his final TV Christmas special with guests David Bowie and Twiggy. His duet with Bowie on "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy," generated so much interest that it was later released as a single and became an annual holiday classic. At the end of the century, TV Guide listed the Crosby-Bowie duet as one of the 25 most memorable musical moments of 20th century television.
At the conclusion of his work in England, Bing flew alone to Spain to hunt and play golf. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. on October 14, Crosby died suddenly from a massive heart attack after a round of eighteen holes of golf near Madrid where he and his Spanish golfing partner had just defeated their two opponents. It is widely written that his last words were "That was a great game of golf, fellas.
Because of incorrect instructions from his family, the year of birth engraved on Bing Crosby's tombstone is 1904, rather than the correct date of 1903. He was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California next to his first wife. He was buried nine feet deep so that his second wife could be buried with him.
At his death, because of Bing's shrewd investments in oil, real estate, and other commodities, Bing was one of Hollywood's then-wealthiest residents, along with Fred MacMurray, Lawrence Welk, and best friend Bob Hope. A clause in his will stated that his sons from his first marriage could not collect their inheritance money until they were 65. Bing felt that they had already been amply taken care of by a trust fund set up by their mother, Dixie Lee. All four sons continued to collect monies from that fund until their deaths.
After Bing's death, his image as an ideal father (fostered in part by his family's participation on his famous holiday television specials) was nearly destroyed when his eldest son, Gary, wrote a highly critical memoir, Going My Own Way, depicting Bing as cold, remote, and both physically and psychologically abusive.
Younger son Phillip frequently disputed his brother Gary's claims about their father. In an interview conducted in 1999 by the Globe, Phillip is quoted as saying, "My dad was not the monster my lying brother said he was; he was strict, but my father never beat us black and blue, and my brother Gary was a vicious, no-good liar for saying so. I have nothing but fond memories of Dad, going to studios with him, family vacations at our cabin in Idaho, boating and fishing with him. To my dying day, I'll hate Gary for dragging Dad's name through the mud. He wrote Going My Own Way out of greed. He wanted to make money and knew that humiliating our father and blackening his name was the only way he could do it. He knew it would generate a lot of publicity. That was the only way he could get his ugly, no-talent face on television and in the newspapers. My dad was my hero. I loved him very much. He loved all of us too, including Gary. He was a great father."
However, Lindsay and Dennis publicly agreed with many of Gary's criticisms of their father and Lindsay eventually committed suicide. Dennis ended his life two years later, grieving over his brother's death, and battered, just as his brother had been, by alcoholism, failed relationships, and a lackluster career. Both brothers were subsisting on small allowances from their mother's trust fund; both died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. Their mother had struggled with alcoholism since her own teens.
Phillip died in 2004.
Nathaniel Crosby, Bing's youngest son from his second marriage, was a high-level golfer who won the U.S. Amateur at age 19 in 1981, becoming the youngest-ever winner of that event (a record later broken by Tiger Woods). Nathaniel praised his father in a June 16, 2008, Sports Illustrated article.
Widow Kathryn Crosby would dabble in local theater productions intermittently, and appear in television tributes to her late husband. Although left very comfortable in Bing's will, Kathryn's allowance would be controlled by a foundation Bing had carefully set up. She later accepted a job as spokeswoman for San Francisco Bay Area's Coit Cleaners, which specialized in soiled carpets and draperies. For a few years after Bing's death, Kathryn appeared in radio, television and print ads for the company, even permitting home tours of the Crosby mansion in pricy Hillsborough, California to demonstrate the service. The Crosbys and the Coits were friends from San Francisco charity circles.
In 2006, Crosby's niece, Carolyn Schneider, attempted to dispel some of the more vitriolic books penned about her uncle, publishing "Me and Uncle Bing," in which she offered an intimate glimpse of her family, and gratitude for Crosby's generosity to her and to other family members. Since publication of her book, Schneider has been a favorite at gatherings of Crosby fans, and has offered her memories of "Uncle Bing" to the BBC.
He is a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in the radio division.
The family has established an official website,. It was launched October 14, 2007, the 30th anniversary of Bing's death.
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