Friday, May 3, 2013

May 3: "Crooner," Bing Crosby was born on this date in 1903...

... he died on October 14, 1977.

Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington, in a house his father built. His trademark bass-baritone voice made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation.

Did you know?
In 1910, six-year-old Harry Crosby was a fan of a feature in The Sunday edition of the Spokesman-Review called "The Bingville Bugle. Written by humorist Newton Newkirk, The Bingville Bugle was a parody of a hillbilly newsletter filled with gossipy tidbits, minstrel quips, creative spelling, and mock ads. A 15-year-old neighbor, 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." Eventually the last vowel was dropped and the nickname 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.

By 1925, Crosby had formed a vocal duo with partner Al Rinker. Paul Whiteman,who was at that time America's most famous bandleader hired them for $150 a week. Their first recording was "I've Got The Girl," with Don Clark's Orchestra.

Whiteman added a third member to the group. The threesome, now including pianist and aspiring songwriter Harry Barris, were dubbed "The Rhythm Boys." They joined the Whiteman touring act, performing and recording with musicians Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Eddie Lang and Hoagy Carmichael.
Crosby soon became the star attraction of the Rhythm Boys, and in 1928 had his first number one hit with the Whiteman orchestra, a jazz-influenced rendition of "Ol' Man River."

However, Crosby's reported taste for alcohol and his growing dissatisfaction with Whiteman led to the Rhythm Boys quitting to join the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. During his time with Arnheim, the other two Rhythm Boys were increasingly pushed to the background as the emphasis was on Crosby. Harry Barris wrote several of Crosby's subsequent hits including "At Your Command," "I Surrender Dear," and "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams. But the members of the band had a falling out and left, leading to Crosby's solo career.
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On September 2, 1931, Crosby made his solo radio debut. By the end of the year, he'd signed with both Brunswick Records and CBS Radio. Doing a weekly 15 minute radio broadcast, Crosby quickly became a huge hit. His songs "Out of Nowhere," "Just One More Chance," "At Your Command" and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)" were all among the best selling songs of 1931.

Crosby soon became the leading singer in America. Ten of the top 50 songs for 1931 featured Crosby, either solo or with others. A so-called "Battle of the Baritones" with singing star Russ Columbo proved short-lived, replaced with the slogan "Bing Was King."

Crosby signed a long-term deal with Jack Kapp's new record company Decca, and starred in his first full-length feature, 1932's The Big Broadcast, the first of 55 films in which he received top billing. He would appear in 79 pictures. Some of his popular films were a series of "Road" pictures with Bob Hope

Around this time Crosby co-starred on radio with The Carl Fenton Orchestra on a popular CBS radio show. By 1936, he'd replaced his former boss, Paul Whiteman, as the host of NBC's Kraft Music Hall, the weekly radio program where he remained for the next ten years. "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)," which also showcased one of his then-trademark whistling interludes, became his theme song and signature tune.

Crosby's much-imitated style helped take popular singing beyond the kind of "belting" associated with performers like Al Jolson, who had to reach the back seats in New York theatres without microphones. As Henry Pleasants noted in The Great American Popular Singers, something new had entered American music, a style that might be called "singing in American," with conversational ease. This new sound led to the term "crooner."

Crosby's early career coincided with technical recording innovations; this allowed him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influenced many of the popular male singers who followed him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, 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." Also in 1948, the Music Digest estimated that Crosby recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.
Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O'Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way, and was nominated for his reprise of the role in The Bells of St. Mary's the next year, becoming the first of four actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character.   

In 1963, Crosby received the first Grammy Global Achievement Award. Crosby is one of the 22 people to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Following his recovery from a life-threatening fungal infection of his right lung in 1974, Crosby emerged from semi-retirement to produce multiple 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 and fell into an orchestra pit, rupturing a disc in his back and requiring a month in the hospital.

In September, Crosby began a concert tour of England where he recorded his final album, Seasons, and his final TV Christmas special. 

His last concert was in The Brighton Centre four days before his death, At the conclusion of his work in England, Crosby flew to Spain to hunt and play golf. On October 14, Crosby died suddenly from a massive heart attack after a round of 18 holes of golf near Madrid. It is widely written that his last words were "That was a great game of golf, fellas."


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