An Overdue Tribute to Bing Crosby -- With 11 Music Videos
Singer, Actor, Entertainer
'Der Bingle,' 'The Groaner'
This tribute was written as an "Editor's Notebook" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Dec. 23, 1994. I don't know what took me so long! Bing's family celebrated the 30th anniversary of his death with the launching of a new Website, bingcrosby.com on Oct. 14, 2007, the date on which he died in 1977 after completing a round of golf in Spain. For the uninitiated, Bing made the most popular record ever, "White Christmas," and had more charted records than anyone (396), and that includes Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles. The Tacoma, Wash., native had 38 No. 1 hits and won a Best Actor Oscar for "Going My Way," one of some five dozen movies in which he starred. He was a major radio and television star for some 30 years. Contemporary youngsters may only know "Der Bingle" from his duet with David Bowie, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy," but extensive information on him can be found at my blog.
Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby, who lent his melodic voice, underrated acting talents and devil-may-care attitude to the world for more than five decades, once again brightens the holiday season with his ubiquitous "White Christmas."
The man who "crooned" his way into the hearts of millions in "Pennies From Heaven" in the mid-'30s was "Swinging on a Star" by the '40s. His "White Christmas" inspired GI's on the battlefields of World War II as well as their loved ones at home.
But Crosby was no ordinary singer and it would be a shame if we were to allow his talents to go the way of Russ Columbo, Morton Downey, Rudy Vallee and Al Jolson.
"Der Bingle," -- a nickname he got from the German soldiers who picked up his broadcasts to the Allies -- deserves not to be forgotten.
Easygoing Crooning Style
Crosby was the acknowledged precursor of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Mel Torme (who has performed his own tribute to Bing and his music) among others. His easygoing crooning style was sometimes panned by musical technicians, but the "Father O'Malley" of "The Bells of St. Mary's" joined in song with virtually "everyone who was anyone" throughout his long, successful career.
Bing not only sang with all the great vocalists of his time, including the tuneful Andrews Sisters, but was known for his wide-ranging repertoire; his hit songs included country and western, Hawaiian and jazz, in addition to pop music. Over five decades he recorded, (largely) on the old Decca label, more than 2,400 songs.
While "White Christmas" is widely believed to be his largest selling record, Bing once pointed out that his recording of "Silent Night" actually was No. 1 in sales. Bing donated all the proceeds of that song to charity.
A Self-effacing Man
Perhaps one reason that Bing's music is not widely promoted these days (as are those of Sinatra) is that much of his best work was done in the days before high fidelity and CDs, although (many) technically enhanced tapes and (CDs) are now available. Also, Bing was a self-effacing man who thought of himself as nothing special, just a singer. Not unlike the character he portrayed throughout his career, he was more interested in golf and fishing than in promoting his career.
Bing loved singing, but his friends say that he was rarely happier than when he was playing golf (He was a low handicapper) or casting a fishing line in some remote part of the world. For many years, until his death at 74 in 1977, he was host of the Crosby "Clambake," a pro-am tournament held annually at Pebble Beach.
Star of Radio, Television, Movies
Few people realize that Bing starred in nearly five dozen movies, beginning with a few Mack Sennett comedies and ending with a character in one of the "Stagecoach" remakes. He also had his own television (and radio) shows, and for several years hosted a family Christmas Special.
He's famous, of course, for the seven "road" pictures he made with a guy named Bob Hope, but he reached his zenith in 1944 with his Oscar-winning role in "Going My Way."
Aside from the lighthearted parts he played in many movies, Bing showed true talent as an actor in several serious roles, including "The Country Girl" with William Holden and Grace Kelly.
Sadly, Bing's reputation has taken a beating since his death, most notably through a book by his son, Gary, who portrayed Bing as such a strict disciplinarian that he brutalized the children he fathered with Dixie Lee, his first wife. Bing was described once as a "fallen down drunk" when he first hit the limelight in the late '20s when he (and the Rhythm Boys) split with the biggest bandleader of the time, Paul Whiteman.
Loved by Millions
Notwithstanding those allegations, Bing was loved by millions around the world and could warm the coldest heart with that great baritone voice. In my opinion he had no equal.
I would hope that after three decades of loud, cacophonous "music," the youngsters of today might be ready for a return to sanity -- a return to truly good music.
And, in my book, there is no better music than that left to us by Bing Crosby.