Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bing Crosby: White Christmas

Bing Crosby was among the most important singers in the history of American popular music. His bass-baritone was immediately recognizable on even his earliest pop/jazz recordings. His relaxed crooning style influenced just about every white pop singer who came after him including Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.

Fortunately, Crosby’s early career coincided with the development of the microphone and electronic recordings. Earlier jazz singers needed to shout out songs without the aid of amplification during performances, whereas Crosby’s softer delivery could be amplified with a microphone and heard amid the din of a band.

Crosby was born Harry Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, in 1903. His brother, Bob Crosby, would also become a notable jazz figure. In the summer of 1917, while witnessing a performance by Al Jolson in Spokane, Washington, Crosby was bitten by the music bug and decided that a career in music was for him.

In 1923, he formed a band with some high school chums called the “Musicalalers” featuring himself on vocals and drums. The band played shows in clubs and at high school dances. After two years, the band broke up, and in 1925, Crosby’s musical connections led him to Paul Whiteman, the leader of the most successful jazz/pop orchestra in America. By 1926, Whiteman had hired Crosby. Crosby would eventually be featuring in Whiteman’s touring band with two other singers as the “Rhythm Boys.” As one of the Whiteman fold, Crosby would work with some of the best white jazz musicians in the country including Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Eddie Lang.

Crosby’s magnetic voice quickly made him the star of the Rhythm Boys and he would record a No. 1 pop single with the Whiteman Orchestra with “Ole Man River,” in 1928. Eventually, Crosby’s love of alcohol and good times put him at odds with Whiteman, and he left Whiteman with the Rhythm Boys to join the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. While with Arnheim, The other two singers in the Rhythm Boys were increasingly pushed out of the spotlight, leading to inevitable bitterness and the eventual dissolution of the trio.

Crosby was now on his own, but by 1931, he had signed a recording deal with Brunswick Records and a performance deal with CBS Radio. Crosby performed for 15 minutes every week on CBS, giving him a national audience for the material he had recorded for Brunswick. The songs “Out of Nowhere,” “At Your Command,” and “Just One More Chance” all became huge hits for Crosby in 1931.

As the Thirties progressed, Crosby would become the leading singer in America, placing more hits on the charts than any other singer. He also made the transition to movie star, appearing in a number of short musical films by director Mack Sennett. He signed a new recording deal with Decca Records and appeared in his first full-length film, “The Big Broadcast,” in 1932. Crosby would ultimately appear in 79 films.

During World War Two, Crosby was one of the most dedicated of the performers who traveled into the European theatre of war to entertain American troops. Crosby’s dedication to the fighting men did not go unnoticed and only served to increase his popularity.

On Christmas Day, 1941, Crosby introduced what would become his most famous song, “White Christmas,” in a radio broadcast. By the following year, Crosby had recorded the song, and that recording of White Christmas went on to become the biggest selling single in recording history with world-wide sales of over 100 million copies.

After a career that lasted for more than fifty years, Crosby collapsed and died of a heart attack while playing golf, in Spain, in 1977.

Of the myriad of Bing Crosby collections available, the multi-volume “The Chronological Bing Crosby” (1999) is the most comprehensive. “Bing: His Legendary Years 1931-1957” (1993) and “Gold” (2008) are also worthy collections.

This guy has balls!