Bing Crosby's rich voice enchanted all


August 17, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

In all of the hoopla surrounding the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death(has it really ever ended?), the death of Bing Crosby, a few weeks later in 1977, has seemingly been forgotten.

Crosby, one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century, recorded more than 1,700 songs for Decca and sold more than 300 million records during his 50-year career.

He also appeared in such movies as the Big Broadcast of 1932, The Big Broadcast of 1936, The Bells of St. Mary's, Holiday Inn and Going My Way, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and was a fixture on network radio and television for years.

Perhaps his most successful films were the Road comedies - The Road to Zanzibar and The Road to Singapore - with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

"He will be remembered as one of the best-loved and most highly respected figures in theatrical history," said William S. Paley, CBS chairman, at Crosby's death on Oct. 14, 1977.

Crosby, who Paley signed to a national radio contract in 1931 after hearing his rendition of "I Surrender, Dear," was playing golf in Spain when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 73.

He was gifted with a smooth, rich, mellow baritone and an uncanny vocal agility with lyrics.

"Bing Crosby's voice was like gold being poured out of a cup," observed Louis Armstrong.

Throughout his life, Crosby was identified with what became his theme song, "When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day." He also was known for his scat singing and his bub-bub-bub-boing, which delighted both audiences and impersonators.

He was born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Wash., the son of a bookkeeper. He acquired his nickname from a comic strip, "The Bingville Bugle," that he spent hours reading as a child. His family, noting his fondness for the strip, began calling him Bingo and later dropped the "o."

While attending Gonzaga University, Crosby played drums in a student band, influenced heavily by Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Al Jolson and Bix Beiderbecke.

In 1925, he and Al Rinker, the band's piano player, left college and headed for Los Angeles, where they formed a new act, Two Boys and a Piano.

The great orchestra leader, Paul Whitman, hired the act in 1927 after hearing a performance at the Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles. They were later joined by Harry Barris and were renamed The Rhythm Boys, touring on the Keith Orpheum vaudeville circuit and later appearing in Whiteman's movie, The King of Jazz.

After leaving Whiteman, the trio continued playing West Coast clubs, and Crosby made his radio debut in 1931 singing with Gus Arnheim's Orchestra at the Coconut Grove.

He proved to be so popular on the radio that when he played the Paramount Theater in New York in 1932, he did so for 20 consecutive weeks.

Crosby lent a deft touch to a song and was able to make listeners understand and believe in the lyrics.

"I think that every man who listens to my records or hears me on the radio believes firmly that he sings as well as I do. I have none of the mannerisms of a trained singer. If I've achieved any success it's because I've managed to keep that kind of naturalness in my style, the phrasing which any Joe Doakes possesses," wrote Crosby in his 1952 autobiography, Call Me Lucky.

"Bing Crosby changed the rules of the game. He was the first American popular singer to relax - and by doing so he affected thousands of vocalists to come. A generation or two of young men wooed their girlfriends differently because of him, imitating his straightforward, easy sincerity," said The Evening Sun.

"And without intending to do so, he gently folded over the social fabric of America so the black and white ways of making music began to touch," said the newspaper.

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