BING CROSBY (1903 - 1977)
Bing Crosby was one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century. He was the first white male singer deeply
influenced by jazz and a great admirer of jazz artists, especially Louis Armstrong.
Crosby’s career began as a drummer and vocalist with college chum Al Rinker (brother of vocalist Mildred Bailey).
The two drove from Tacoma, Washington to Los Angeles in 1926, where Bailey found them work in vaudeville. They were soon
hired by orchestra-leader Paul Whiteman, who teamed them with pianist/vocalist/composer Harry Barris billing them as The
Rhythm Boys. As a part of the trio, Crosby made his first film appearance in the King of Jazz in 1930.
The jazz-playing members of Whiteman’s orchestra impressed Crosby, especially cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, and he
later employed Joe Venuti (violin) and Eddie Lang (guitar), who became his permanent accompanist in 1932.
Crosby and the Rhythm Boys were fired by Whiteman in 1930 and went to work for Los Angeles bandleader Gus Arnheim. That
year the trio appeared in the film Check and Double Check accompanied by Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. Also
during this period Crosby cemented his life-long friendship with Louis Armstrong, eventually leading to appearances
together in film.
Arnheim encouraged Crosby and featured him more often without Barris and Rinker, and his popularity soared with live
radio broadcasts and recordings. In mid-1931 Crosby left Arnheim to follow a solo career, which quickly took off with 16
recordings in the charts, three of which were number one.
His first feature film appearance was in The Big Broadcast of 1932 and he starred in 20 more features during the
1930s. In the 1940s he teamed up with Bob Hope in a series of Road pictures, beginning with The Road to
Singapore (1940). His role as an easy-going priest in Going My Way (1944) won him an Oscar as Best Actor, and in
it he sang Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s Oscar-winning “Swinging on a Star.” He received two more
Oscar nominations: for The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) and for his role as an alcoholic in The Country
For over 50 years his recording of Irving Berlin’s Oscar-winning “White Christmas,” introduced in the
film Holiday Inn (1942), which first paired him with Fred Astaire, was a best-seller. In their next film, Blue
Skies (1946), they danced and sang their way through an Irving Berlin score.
Short, stocky and balding, Crosby was not your typical leading man, but he was appealing--from his almost comical dress
to his lackadaisical manner and passion for golf. He starred in his own radio and television shows and introduced some of
our most enduring standards: “I Surrender, Dear” (1931), “Pennies from Heaven” (1936),
“Moonlight Becomes You” (1942), “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (1944), and the Oscar-winning
“In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (1951). Crosby contributed lyrics to his theme song, “Where the
Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day” (1931) and to “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with
The most memorable of his later films, High Society (1956), reunited him with Louis Armstrong, featured him with
supposed-rival Frank Sinatra, and included a memorable scene crooning “True Love” to Grace Kelly. He died on
tour while playing golf in Spain.
-- Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com