Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby was born on May 2, 1903, in Tacoma, Washington. He was the fourth of seven children born to Harry Lowe Crosby and Kate Harrigan Crosby. He gained the nickname “Bing” after a character named “Bingo” in a comic strip titled “Bingville Bugle.” As a young man, he studied law at Gonzaga University in Spokane, but his real interest was in music, playing drums and singing with a local band. One of his early inspirations was the inimitable Louis Armstrong, who returned the admiration by once describing Bing’s voice as “gold being poured out of a cup.”
In the early 1930s, Bing’s brother, Everett, sent a record of Bing singing “I Surrender, Dear” to the president of CBS. At this time, Bing began to sing regularly on the national radio network. People loved his mellow voice and he was a success, so much so that Paramount Pictures included him in “The Big Broadcast” (1932), which was a film that featured radio favorites. His songs appealed to a nation shrouded in the woes of The Great Depression and he was soon asked to participate in the “Road” comedies he made with his pal, Bob Hope.
Bing Crosby was the 20th century’s first multimedia entertainer; a star on radio, in movies and in chart-topping recordings. He had 38 Number One singles, which surpassed even Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He was a fine actor as well as a singer and he won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as a priest in “Going My Way” (1944) and as an alcoholic actor down on his luck in “The Country Girl” (1954) opposite Grace Kelly. He was also the first choice of “Colombo” creators, which he turned down because he felt playing the great detective would interfere with his golf game.
“White Christmas” was the best selling single for more than 50 years until overtaken in 1997 by “Candle In The Wind,” Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana. During the Vietnam War, a secret code that indicated immediate evacuation was signaled by the playing of White Christmas twice in a row on the Armed Forces Network followed by the announcement “The temperature in Hanoi is rising.”
His personal life was far from perfect. He was married twice and had seven children, two of whom committed suicide. One son, Gary, wrote a tell-all book in which he criticized his father’s violent ways. It is said that Bing was a better father to the children of his second marriage because he regretted the way he treated his first wife, Dixie Lee, and the affair he had with Grace Kelly.
He died on October 14, 1977, at the age of 74 while playing golf outside of Madrid, Spain. He had just finished a tour of England that had included a sold-out engagement at the London Palladium.
What are some of YOUR favorite Bing Crosby songs and performances?