Friday, February 1, 2013
How can a man be as well known, and as forgotten, as Bing Crosby? There aren't many Americans who haven't heard the song White Christmas, and while It's A Wonderful Life has supplanted White Christmas, the movie, as the favorite TV Christmas special, it's still very popular. But who remembers Bing Crosby the musical innovator?
I've been collecting 78 rpm recordings for decades and at first, if Crosby's name was on the label, I passed. Then one day, I got a load of Crosby records as part of a larger lot and began listening. What a revelation. This beautiful bass-baritone voice that sang in an almost conversational style. I was hooked, a Bing Crosby fan for life. Too, as I listened, I noticed something else. It was like there were two periods of music. PB, pre- Bing, and AB, after Bing. The style didn't exist before Bing Crosby came along. I can remember a conversation I had with another fan. He told me that there were changes in the technology of recording about the time that Crosby arrived on the scene that made it possible to capture the tonal range in his voice, and that was the reason for the change in popular musical styles. That always seemed specious to me, so I've never done any research into the claim, but I pass it along for what it 's worth.
And a quick note on Bing Crosby the actor. Based on number of tickets sold, Crosby is the third most popular movie actor in history, behind Clark Gable and John Wayne. Once I became a fan of the music, I started watching the movies. White Christmas, of course, (For the record, I prefer it to It's A Wonderful Life), Holiday Inn and some of the other musicals, but also the road movies with Bob Hope. The humor still holds up quite well. At least in my opinion.
Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby in 1903, in Tacoma Washington. He began singing professionally while still in high school. His first big success was as a member of The Rhythm Boys with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Depending on the source, Crosby either quit to go solo, or was fired because of his drinking and marijuana use. His first wife was the actress Dixie Lee. They had four sons, two of whom, Dennis and Lindsay, committed suicide. A third son, Gary wrote a tell all book accusing his father of being physically and emotionally abusive. Philip, twin brother of Dennis, died of natural causes. Crosby had three more children with his second wife, Kathryn. Harry Jr., Nathaniel, and Mary. Bing Crosby died of a heart attack in 1977, in Madrid, Spain.