Bing Crosby (1903-1977)

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Bing Crosby
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Bing Crosby was the single most successful performer in the history of light entertainment. If he had done no more than appear in the 79 movies he made (55 with top billing), then it would be considered a decent effort, a worthwhile career, but he achieved so much more than that. When he joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra as resident singer in 1926 he became the first vocalist ever signed to an orchestra. After that, the extent of his success and his dominance of the recording and broadcasting media during his lifetime was truly extraordinary.

For instance he has made more number one hit records than any other artist - 38. (In comparison the Beatles had 24 and Elvis Presley 18.) He made more studio based recordings than any other singer in history (about 400 more than Frank Sinatra). His recording of ''White Christmas' was the most popular recording ever, making the American pop charts 20 times, every year but one between 1942 and 1962. Bing's radio show during the Second World War regularly attracted an audience in excess of 50 million--an extraordinary number.

His 'secondary' career, as a movie actor, was also staggeringly successful. In one year alone - 1946 - three of the five top-grossing pictures ('The Bells of St. Mary's', 'Blue Skies' and 'Road to Utopia') starred Bing Crosby. In fact 29 of his 79 movies made the top ten of the highest grossing pictures in the year they were made. Bing is ranked as the third most popular film actor of all time, in terms of tickets sold for his movies, (behind Clark Gable and John Wayne). He received three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and won the Oscar once, for 'Going My Way' in 1944. He had 14 songs nominated for Academy Awards and his songs won 4 Awards, more than any other star.

In addition to the above he found the time and had the foresight to wholeheartedly embrace new technology and was at the forefront of many inventions and new developments in music recording and broadcasting. His backing helped to ensure the survival of some of the most important companies in the development of the American entertainment industry including Paramount Pictures, Decca Records, and ABC.

In short Bing Crosby was a phenomenon, a sensational pop culture rarity. He entertained us and he helped to change the world we live in today.


He was born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, on May 3, 1903, the fourth of seven children, five boys and two girls. His father, also called Harry, was a brewery bookkeeper and the family moved when young Harry was 3 years old to Spokane, Washington. He got his nickname when he was about six years old. He took a liking to a feature in a local paper called 'The Bingville Bugle', so much so that he became known as 'Bingo'. As he got older the last 'o' was dropped and the nickname stayed with him for life.

As a boy he was interested in sports, particularly swimming, and at school he developed an interest in acting, appearing in several school plays, and in music (he played the drums). He went on at his parents request, to study law at Gonzaga, a private Roman Catholic university in Spokane, but left before graduating, as his musical interests took over.

Starting when he was 14, Crosby began working his summers at the Auditorium theater at Spokane. He was able to watch, first-hand, some of the top performers of the day, including Al Jolson, who made a big impression on the young Crosby. He began to consider music as a career and in 1923, as a drummer, he joined a local dance band called 'The Musicaladers,' performing at local clubs and school dances. His singing talent became obvious immediately and when the band broke up, he and the group leader, Harry Rinker, joined forces as a duo, with Bing singing and Harry on the piano. In 1925 they moved to Los Angeles to find work and whilst performing at the Metropolitan theater there, they were seen by bandleader Paul Whiteman, who took them on and began featuring them in his nightclub act.

Whiteman teamed Bing and Harry with a songwriter and pianist called Harry Barris, and named them 'The Rhythm Boys'. He gave them a contract and they became essentially a jazz vocal group, touring with the Whiteman orchestra. Bing was already attracting attention for his rich baritone voice and his relaxed singing style and he began recording with some of Whiteman's top musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke, Tommy Dorsey, Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington. Songwriters, too heard about his exciting talent and began writing songs for him.

Bing began to stand out as the star of the Rhythm Boys and soon had his first number one hit with the Whiteman orchestra, a jazzy interpretation of 'Ol' Man River' in 1928. He made his movie debut, still as a member of the Rhythm Boys in 'King of Jazz' and 'Two Plus Fours', both in 1930. He left the orchestra soon afterwards, possibly pushed out by Whiteman because of his youthful over indulgence in alcohol. The other members of the Rhythm Boys were increasingly marginalised as Crosby's fame grew and he soon left them to start his solo career.

Solo Artist

Bing worked the club and theater circuit and his reputation as a singer grew rapidly. He was the first singer to use the microphone, not just as means of amplification, but as a method of communicating emotion and subtleties not possible with the voice alone. His new, conversational singing style became known as 'crooning'. During the 1930's he gradually rose to the pinnacle of the entertainment world in movies, radio and live entertainment.

Bing's movie career took off with a series of comedy shorts for producer Mack Sennett, including 'I Surrender Dear' in 1931 and 'Sing, Bing, Sing' in 1933. Also in 1931 Bing made his solo radio debut with a 15 minute weekly radio show which gave him national fame, with hits like "Just One More Chance" and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)". It was an exciting time for Crosby as he also made his feature film debut in 1932 in Paramount's highly successful 'The Big Broadcast', also starring Burns and Allen and the Mills Brothers, and this developed into a 20 year connection with the Hollywood studio.

In 1934 he signed a lucrative long term contract with Decca records and it became apparent that there was a new, formidable force in the world of popular music. Bing Crosby in a few years had become the most popular singer in America. In 1936 he took over the radio program 'Kraft Music Hall', replacing his former employer, Paul Whiteman. He changed its formula to a regular variety show and its popularity shot up. Crosby remained with the show for the next ten years.

War Years

Bing used his fame to help boost troop morale during the Second World War. He toured, both in America and in Europe and he made a large number of V-discs (special records produced for the use of American military personnel overseas). His radio show during the war attracted an astonishing regular audience of 50 million listeners and he sold record numbers of war bonds. In addition he read propaganda broadcasts in German intended for the German forces, receiving the nickname "Der Bingle", which came to be used by all his fans. By the war's end he was number one on an Army poll as the person who had done most to boost forces morale.

Bing had a good war. As well as the morale boosting efforts, he boosted his own fame and career considerably. He began the 'Road' musical comedy movies with Bob Hope with 'Road to Singapore' in 1940, 'Road to Zanzibar' in 1941 and 'Road to Morocco' in 1942, beginning a series of seven films which ended with 'Road to Hong Kong' in 1962. The series became one of the most famous and long-lasting in movie history, based primarily on the comic sparring between Hope and Crosby. The films have kept their freshness and are still funny today. During their solo appearances on radio,and television Crosby and Hope continued the comic criticism of each other and they appeared together many times on stage,during their lives, as well as making cameo appearances in other films.

White Christmas

Bing introduced 'White Christmas' in a radio broadcast on Christmas Day , 1941, and sang it again the following year in the movie 'Holiday Inn'. It has proved to be Crosby's most popular record and has been repeatedly re-released by Decca. It stayed at number one in the charts for 11 weeks in 1941, and has charted since then another 16 times, including number one again in 1945 and 1947. Until Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind' tribute single to Princess Diana, it was the best-selling single of all time.

Postwar Popularity

Bing's movie career continued unabated. As well as continuing the 'Road' movies with Bob Hope, he won an Academy Award in 1944, for his performance as Father O'Malley in Leo McCarey's Going My Way, and for the remainder of the decade he rode the crest of a wave. In 1945 he again played Father O'Malley in 'The Bells of St. Mary's' and was nominated again for the Best Actor Oscar, this time losing out to Ray Milland in 'The Lost Weekend'.

. As a box office movie star he held the Number 1 spot for five years in a row between 1944 and 1948, was Number 2 in 1949, Number 3 in 1950, Number 5 in 1951, Number 4 in 1952, Number 5 in 1953, and Number 8 in 1954. Other popular movies he made during this period include 'A Yankee in King Arthur's Court' with Rhonda Fleming in 1949, 'White Christmas' and 'The Country Girl' in 1954 and the wonderful musical 'High Society' in 1956.

Bing also dominated the singles records charts each year from his first recording, 'Muddy Water' in 1927, until Rock and Roll began to make its impact in the mid1950's. The statistics are incredible: 383 of his singles entered the general pop charts; after his first number one hit in 1928, a jazzed-up rendition of "Ol' Man River" he had a further 40 number one records. For 23 years between 1931 and 1954 he had at least one single in the charts. As well as "White Christmas", his most successful single, some of the biggest hits of the 1930's and 40's were his, such as "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" in 1932, "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me," in 1933, 'Pennies from Heaven' in 1936, "Moonlight Becomes You" in 1942 and "Now Is the Hour" in 1948.

After 1950 Crosby became more the grand old man of popular music and he concentrated on creating albums rather than singles and on collaborating with other artists and big name bands. He had great success with albums such as 'Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings' in 1956, 'Bing With a Beat' in 1957, 'Bing and Satchmo' in 1960 and 'I Wish You A Merry Christmas' in 1962.


From the mid 1950's Bing began to reduce his movie output and worked more and more in television in shows such as 'The Jack Benny Show' in 1954, 'Lux Video Theater' in 1955, and 'The Perry Como Show' in 1960. He also appeared with his family each Christmas in his own show which became an integral part of the festive season for many Americans. In the 1960's he was often on the small screen, either in his own shows or guesting on shows of his friends such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and Joey Bishop. He also starred in his own series, 'The Bing Crosby Show' from 1964-65.


Bing married twice. His first wife was actress Dixie Lee, who was actually more famous than Crosby when they married in 1930. She gave up her career to raise their four sons and died of ovarian cancer in 1952.

For a few years Bing lived the life of a rich bachelor and his name was linked to many of Hollywood's most glamorous women including Grace Kelly, his co-star in 'High Society' in 1956, Joan Caulfield, Pat Sheehan and Inger Stevens. In 1957 he married actress Kathryn Grant and the couple had two sons and a daughter.

Despite increasing ill health, Crosby remained active into the 1970's, still making albums and playing golf regularly. He died from a heart attack on October 14th, 1977 in Madrid, Spain, after a round of golf.

His Secret

Of course, above all, Bing had a great voice. His beautiful, mellow, seemingly effortless baritone made him stand out from the crowd from the start. He also got his timing right. He entered show business at just the right moment to take advantage of the technological breakthroughs that were being made. He used the microphone as an extension of his voice and he sounded like the guy next door.

His sense of humor and his modest demeanour added to his attraction. We all loved Bing Crosby. We still do. He was a unique entertainer who is a part of all our memories.

Bing Crosby Academy Awards

One Win
Best Actor ... Going My Way (1944)

Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Best Actor ... The Country Girl (1954)

Bing Crosby Filmography

King of Jazz (as The Rhythm Boys)
Two Plus Fours (short) (as The Rhythm Boys)
Reaching for the Moon
Her Dilemma (as The Rhythm Boys)
I Surrender Dear (short)
One More Chance (short)
Dream House (short)
Billboard Girl (short)
The Big Broadcast
Blue of the Night (short)
Sing, Bing, Sing (short)
College Humor
Too Much Harmony
Please (short)
Going Hollywood
Just an Echo (short)
We're Not Dressing
She Loves Me Not
Here Is My Heart
Two for Tonight
The Big Broadcast of 1936
Anything Goes
Rhythm on the Range
Pennies from Heaven
Waikiki Wedding
Double or Nothing
Dr. Rhythm
Sing, You Sinners
Paris Honeymoon
East Side of Heaven
The Star Maker
Road to Singapore
If I Had My Way
Rhythm on the River
Road to Zanzibar
Birth of the Blues
My Favorite Blonde (uncredited)
Holiday Inn
Road to Morocco
Star Spangled Rhythm
They Got Me Covered (uncredited)
Don't Hook Now (short)
The Shining Future (short) (uncredited)
Going My Way
Road to Victory (short) (uncredited)
The Princess and the Pirate (uncredited)
Here Come the Waves
Out of This World (uncredited)
Duffy's Tavern
Hollywood Victory Caravan (short)
The Bells of St. Mary's
Rough But Hopeful (short)
Road to Utopia
Blue Skies
My Favorite Brunette
Welcome Stranger
Variety Girl
Road to Rio
The Emperor Waltz
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (short)
A Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Jolson Sings Again(uncredited)
Top o' the Morning
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad