OCTOBER 14, 1977 – Singer/actor BING CROSBY (b. May 3, 1903 in Tacoma Washington as Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr.) died of a heart attack at age 74 while playing a round of golf in Spain after completing a tour of England that had included a sold-out engagement at the London Palladium.Crosby’s trademark warm bass-baritone voice made him the best-selling recording artist of the 20th century, having sold over one billion records, tapes, compact discs and digital downloads around the world.
The first multimedia star, from 1931 to 1954 Crosby was a leader in record sales, radio ratings, and motion picture grosses. His early career coincided with technical recording innovations such as the microphone. This allowed him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influenced many of the popular male singers who followed him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, and Dean Martin. Yank magazine recognized Crosby as the person who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and, during his peak years, around 1948, American polls declared him the “most admired man alive,” ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII.
Also in 1948, the Music Digest estimated that Crosby recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 motion picture “Going My Way” and was nominated for his reprise of the role in “The Bells of St. Mary’s” opposite Ingrid Bergman the next year, becoming the first of six actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character. In 1963, Crosby received the first Grammy Global Achievement Award. He is one of the 22 people to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (a star for motion pictures, radio, and audio recording).
Crosby also exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. He became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings onto magnetic tape. Through the medium of recording, Crosby constructed his radio programs with the same directorial tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal, time shifting) used in motion picture production, which became the industry standard. In addition to his work with early tape recording, he helped to finance the development of videotape, bought television stations, bred racehorses, and co-owned the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.He was the fourth of seven children born to a working-class family. Crosby spent his early years in Tacoma, Washington, before moving to Spokane when he was 6 years old. With the move to Spokane came the purchase of a revolutionary device—the phonograph.
Crosby loved playing music on the phonograph, especially the work of Al Jolson. Crosby earned his famous nickname around the age of 7; “Bing” comes from a comic strip he adored, “The Bingville Bugle.”For his education, Crosby attended Catholic school, reflecting his mother’s deep devotion to her faith. He went to Gonzaga High School, which was run by Jesuits. While attending Gonzaga University, Crosby abandoned his aspirations to become a lawyer for his dreams of musical stardom. He performed with a group called the Musicaladers as a singer and a drummer.In the mid-1920s, Crosby formed a duo with his friend, Al Rinker, and the pair went to Los Angeles in hopes of landing their big break. They quickly became a popular vaudeville act, which they called “Two Boys and a Piano,” and played numerous shows on the West Coast. The duo joined Paul Whiteman and his jazz band for a time, and then formed a trio with Harry Barris known as the Rhythm Boys. The Rhythm Boys often performed as part of Whiteman’s act.
Many of Crosby’s early songs reflected his love for jazz and its influence on his sound. He was skilled at scat-singing and showed a talent for jazz-styled phrasing.In addition to releasing a few singles, the Rhythm Boys appeared together in one of Crosby’s first films, 1930’s “King of Jazz.” Crosby soon launched his solo career, landing his own radio show. Debuting in 1931, his radio program became a big success, attracting as many as 50 million listeners during its peak, and lasting nearly 30 years on the airwaves. That same year, Crosby scored a number of hits with such songs as “I Found a Million-Dollar Baby” and “Just One More Chance.” He continued to delight music buyers over the coming years with “Please,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” and “June in January.”In the early 1930s, Crosby signed a contract with Paramount Pictures.
His slim frame and protruding ears may not have been the features of a traditionally handsome leading man, but Crosby’s easy charm and smooth patter quickly won over film audiences. He started out in a number of musical comedies, such as 1934’s “Here Is My Heart” with Kitty Carlisle; and 1936’s “Anything Goes” with Ethel Merman. Crosby also starred in 1936’s “Pennies from Heaven”, which gave him another hit single with its title track.Crosby’s film career continued to flourish, reaching its peak in the 1940s. He co-starred with comedian Bob Hope in the wildly popular series of “Road” pictures, which began with 1940’s “The Road to Singapore.” The on-screen dynamic duo forged a genuine affection for each other off-screen as well.
Crosby and Hope remained friends for life, and appeared together in numerous films. With Dorothy Lamour along as their female lead, they made seven Road movies together.The following year, Crosby teamed up with another musical star, Fred Astaire, for “Holiday Inn.” The film featured music by Irving Berlin, including one of Crosby’s all-time greatest hits, “White Christmas.” Taking a paternal turn, Crosby starred as Father Chuck O’Malley in 1944’s “Going My Way.” He played a warm and worldly Roman Catholic priest, who helps straighten out a group of young kids and, in turn, helps his parish. This dramatic role netted Crosby his one and only Academy Award win, which reprised for 1945’s “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”Returning to light comedies, Crosby reunited with Hope for 1946’s “Road to Utopia” and 1947’s “Road to Rio.” According to some reports, Crosby was the top box office star from 1944 to 1947.
To this day, he remains one of the all-time top grossing film performers. Crosby continued to appear in musicals, such as 1954’s “White Christmas” with Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. With the movie’s title song, Crosby once again scored a Top 10 hit. He had more than 300 hit singles during his long career.That same year, Crosby gave what some critics call his best dramatic performance. He played an alcoholic actor in “The Country Girl,” with Grace Kelly playing his wife. Crosby received his final Academy Award nomination for his work on the film. Two years later, he and Kelly teamed up again for the musical comedy “High Society” along with fellow crooner Frank Sinatra. Crosby made his last Road film with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in 1962’s “The Road to Hong Kong.”While his film work tapered off in the 1960s, Crosby focused more on the small screen. He appeared in numerous televisions specials and, from 1964 to 1970, hosted the variety program The Hollywood Palace. He also tried his hand at situation comedy in 1964, with “The Bing Crosby Show” but the series was short-lived.Crosby and his family (his three children from his second marriage) became holiday favorites as they appeared in their own Christmas special each year in the 1970s.
In the 1977 special, “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” he performed a duet with David Bowie on two holiday classics, “Peace on Earth” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” The show and tracks were recorded several weeks before Crosby’s death. Crosby also enjoyed making guest appearances on such programs as “The Tonight Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show.”Several years after his death, Crosby’s reputation as the mellow, cool paternal type was shattered by allegations made by his son Gary. He claimed in his 1983 tell-all memoir “Going My Own Way” that Bing was a cruel father who used to physically abuse his sons. Gary’s brothers were divided on the book. Phillip played down these claims, but Lindsay supported Gary’s stories.As the new millennium began, a public effort ignited to remember Crosby and restore some of his legacy. Jazz critic Gary Giddins re-examined the singer’s early work in “Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams” (2001). In 2005, the Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted a retrospective of Crosby’s films. Regardless of what he did or didn’t do in his personal life, Crosby changed the sound and style of popular music. His songs are a part of the American soundtrack, and can still be heard on the radio, on television programs and in films.