|The first time I heard of Bing Crosby was way back in Germany. I was listening to an American Christmas Song which was very, very different from our more solemn German Christmas songs we grew up with. And a “White Christmas” was every German’s dream, mine as well, and I think most people loved the song as did i.|
That’s now a very long time ago, but Bing Crosby’s crooning voice is still one of my favorites I like listening to. My every-Saturday program of CBC Francais
(5pm and 8pm at Atlantic Time), is the time of the week when one or the other song of Bing is played as well
Naturally, I got interested in learning more of this interpreter of songs of the American Songbook so I started digging.
Born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, on May 3, 1903, "Bing" grew up to become one of America's most popular entertainers of all time. The fourth of seven children in a poverty-level family who loved to sing, he was briefly sent to vocal lessons early on by his mother, until he grew tired of the training.
Crosby began singing in a high-school jazz band, and when he began attending nearby Gonzaga College (he had grown up practically in the middle of the campus), he ordered a drum set through the mail and practiced on the set. Introduced to a local bandleader named Al Rinker, he was invited to join Rinker's group, the Musicaladers, singing and playing drums with the group throughout college.
Though the Musicaladers broke up soon after his graduation in 1925, Bing Crosby was ready to stick with the music business. Crosby had made quite a bit of money during the band's career, and he and Rinker -- who was the brother of Mildred Bailey -- were confident they could make it in California. They packed up their belongings and headed out for Los Angeles, finding good money working in vaudeville until they were hired by Paul Whiteman, leader of the most popular jazz band in the country (and known as the "King of Jazz" in an era when black pioneers were mostly ignored since they were unmarketable). For a few songs during Whiteman's shows, Rinker and Crosby sang as the Rhythm Boys with Harry Barris (a pianist, arranger, vocal effects artist, and songwriter later renowned for "I Surrender Dear" and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams"). With their clever songwriting and stage routines, the trio soon became one of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra's most popular attractions, and Crosby took a vocal on one of Whiteman's biggest hits of 1927-1928, "Ol' Man River." Besides appearing on record with Whiteman's orchestra, the Rhythm Boys also recorded on their own, though an opportunity for Crosby to enlarge his part in the 1930 film King of Jazz with a solo song went unrealized, as he sat in the clink for a drunk-driving altercation.
When Whiteman again hit the road in 1930, the Rhythm Boys stayed behind on the West Coast. After Crosby hired his big brother Everett as a manager, he began recording consistently as a solo act with Brunswick Records in early 1931, and by year's end had chalked up several of the year's biggest hits, including "Out of Nowhere," "Just One More Chance," "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby," and "At Your Command."
In 1931, Crosby launched his hugely popular radio show. He soon started starring in films, winning an Academy Award for Going My Way in 1944. Throughout much of his career, Crosby dominated the music charts with nearly 300 hit singles to his credit. He died in 1977.
But how did Harry Liilis become “Bing”, a name sounding like a little church bell?
The nickname "Bing" found him when he was just seven years old. The Spokane Spokesman-Review ran a comic feature called "The Bingville Bugle," which was a parody of hillbilly newspapers. The young Crosby thought the feature was a riot, and he would giggle uncontrollably when reading it. A neighbor noticed his laughter and started calling Crosby "Bingo from Bingville." The "o" eventually went away, but the nickname stuck.
So, there you got it. “Bing” it became and Bing stayed on to his last day.
Bing Crosby was a “Columbo-style” kinda guy.
When television fans think of Columbo, they probably envision Peter Falk starring as the title character. However, the job could have been Crosby's.
The Columbo character made his debut in 1960 on The Chevy Mystery Show with Bert Freed portraying the detective. Thomas Mitchell also spent some time in the role, but the character really exploded when NBC decided to make a television movie in 1968.
The film's producers wanted either Crosby or the great Lee J. Cobb to portray Columbo, but Cobb couldn't squeeze it into his schedule. Crosby turned down the role for a funnier reason: he thought it would interfere with his golfing. At that point Bing considered himself mostly retired, and he didn't want to deal with the long drag of shooting keeping him off of the links.
And GOLFING was his great passion
Maybe turning down an iconic role for golf isn't so surprising considering what an avid golfer Crosby was. Crosby wasn't just any old amateur player; he was serious about his game and whittled his handicap down to two while playing in both the British and U.S. Amateur championships. In the late 1940s he signed a contract with ABC to do a weekly radio variety show, but he made a seemingly strange request: that the show be taped instead of live. This stipulation was a first for broadcast radio, but it enabled Crosby to spend more time on the golf course.
Although Crosby was a fine player, his most enduring contribution to the game was probably the tournament he started in 1937. The first "Crosby Clambake" was played for a purse of $3000 that came out of Crosby's pocket, but it gradually grew into a major event. The tournament is now known as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, one of the PGA Tour's most beloved events.
Crosby wasn't just a golfer; he also enjoyed a little bit of action at the track. In 1937, he teamed up with a group of fellow superstars to open the Del Mar Racetrack just north of San Diego. In addition to Crosby, the team of investors included Jimmy Durante and Oliver Hardy. Crosby was at the track's gate on its opening day, shaking hands and greeting guests, and the track soon became one of California's hottest spots for celebrity sightings.
Another funny story about Crosby and racing:
In 1943, the singer's house burned down. That's a bad piece of luck, but Crosby managed to salvage some of his spirits. As he was picking through the ashes and rubble in search of any useful relics, he found a shoe in which he'd hidden $10,000 in track winnings. The money was still intact.
Not everybody would be blessed with such luck.
Bing Crosby takes a big place in my musical heart and I am already looking forward to next Saturday’s program.