Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ was released in 1942, during the second world war. Radio broadcast had made Bing’s music famous world-wide. The song ‘White Christmas’ became the most played song in the world, and it won Bing an Academy Award. This romantic ballad really hit the spot for the millions whose lives were made sorrowful and difficult because of the war. For many people, the dream of a beautiful ‘White Christmas’, where family would get together in happy reunion, would be a longed-for but nigh impossible event for several more long years. Bing was a cheer-giver whose beautiful, sweet, music gave joy and hope to people world-wide during these turbulent times. ‘White Christmas’ sold over 30 million copies. This song is still the most popular of all Bing’s songs. In 1944, also during the war, Bing made the movie ‘Going My Way’, which won him an Oscar.
There is much in a name: The popular singer Engelbert Humperdinck apparently did not have any success until he changed his name to that of the well known German composer of opera, Engelbert Humperdinck 1854-1921. Bing’s stage name apparently comes from a comic book character which Bing loved reading as a boy.
Bing was born in Washington as Harry Lillis Crosby on the 3rd of May 1903, into a family of five boys and two girls. He died of a heart attack in Spain on October 14, 1977, after playing a game of golf at the Maraleja Golf Club.
Bing Crosby really owed his fabulous success to the advent of radio and ‘The Big Broadcast’, to the recording business, and also to the great band leader Paul Whiteman, who ‘discovered’ him in his early years, exposed him to a wider audience, and put him into the movies. This is the string of events which led to Bing Crosby meeting Paul Whiteman as part of his illustrious career:
Bing Crosby enrolled to study law at Gonzaga Universtiy, but, like Hoagy Carmichael, soon dropped out to pursue his musical career. After quitting his law studies around the age of 20, he moved to Los Angeles with his friend Al Rinker, where they formed a trio called the Rhythm Boys. For the next few years, in Los Angeles, ‘The Rhythm Boys’ would earn their living doing vaudeville shows. It was during this period that Bing developed his famous easy-going, languid, lilting, lackadaisical style of ballad singing which was later labelled as ‘crooning’.
Bing’s lucky break eventuated one night when the illustrious Paul ‘Pops’ Whiteman came into a club and heard Bing sing. Paul Whiteman was always on the look-out for new talented singers to sing with his band. By working with Paul Whiteman, many a jazz singer was made into a star. Bing took up the opportunity, and began singing with the Paul Whiteman band. They toured America, during which time the young Bing was arrested for a drink driving charge. H spent two months in jail for this offence, which apparently led to his losing his first movie contract.
After this incident, things became more stable: He teamed up with his brother Everett, who became his manager. He also married the love of his life, Dixie Lee.
In 1926 Bing cut his first record with Columbia Records.
His first major movie role was made with the Whiteman orchestra in 1930: This was ‘The King Of Jazz’ in which Bing played the lead singer of the band.
The Big Broadcast was a consequence of making the movie with Paul Whiteman, ‘The King Of Jazz’. Radio exposure was everything to the success of a musician at the time, because musicians had to be heard if people were going to buy their records. After the success of the movie with Paul Whiteman and his band, Bing was invited to do a radio show: This was The Big Broadcast’, which was one of the early radio shows which featured Bing Crosby’s ballads. His hit ‘Please’ came out on this show in 1932. ‘Out Of Nowhere’, Dinah’ which was sung with the Mills Brothers, ‘Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’, and ‘It’s Easy To Remember’ which all topped the US music charts, all made their first appearances on The Big Broadcast. Bing overall recorded more than 1700 songs and was awarded 23 gold records. During his musical and acting career of 51 years, Bing recorded with jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, The Andrews Sisters, and many others.
The Wall Street Crash and the Depression had affected America adversely, but Bing Crosby seemed to thrive in this environment. Bands were in demand. Movies which featured famous musicians and dancers were making pots of money. People were flocking to see movies which cheered them up, such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’, which starred Judy Garland. Bing’s movies were not such memorable classics as ‘The Wizard of Oz’: Many of his movies have very poor story lines. The story line wasn’t too important when you had Bing to sell the film for you. These movies were really a platform from which his wonderful crooning music could reach the public, who couldn’t get enough of him. It has been said that many a bad movie was made bearable by the presence of Bing’s sunny smile and a song or two. He co-starred with Marion Davies in ‘Going Hollywood’ which featured his song ‘Temptation’. At New York’s Paramount Theatre, where he had a run of sell-out shows, he was bill-boarded as ‘The Romantic Singer Of The Songs You Love’.
Bing Crosby teamed up with comedian Bob Hope on Bing’s ‘Kraft Music Hall’ radio show. From there, the partnership with Bob Hope became even more lucrative when they made the series of ‘Road’ films. Two famous songs which which Bing serenaded Dorothy Lamour, ‘Too Romantic’ from ‘Road To Singapore’, and ‘Moonlight Becomes You’, from ‘Road To Morocco’ come from this series.
A more swinging style is evident in some of his later songs such as ‘Swinging On a Star’, ‘An Apple For The Teacher’ with Connie Boswell, and ‘Sing A Song Of Sunbeams’.
Some of his dreamier songs won him Academy Awards: The soothing lullaby sound of ‘Sweet Leilani’ from ‘Waikiki Wedding’, and Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ from the movie ‘Holiday Inn’, were sell-out hits. ‘White Christmas’ was one of the biggest selling records of the time: It still remains a popular song for the Christmas season to this very day. In 1974 this record was inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame.