May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977By Andrew Midkiff
Harry Lillis Crosby, was nicknamed "Bing" after a cartoon character in a newspaper whose exploits he followed. Crosby studied law, but decided show business with his friend Al Rinker was preferable. On October 18, 1926 Bing and Al recorded their first record with Don Clark and His Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra, I've Got The Girl , on Columbia 824-D. Bing said "We bootlegged a couple of discs in abandoned warehouses....where the orchestra was set up among the packing cases."
Bing and Al were introduced to Paul Whiteman in November of 1926 and were signed along with Harry Barris to form Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys. On December 22, 1926 Bing cut his first record with Whiteman, Wistful and Blue , on Victor 20418. Bing was now in the big time.
The Rhythm Boys recorded dozens of records with Whiteman in the late 1920s. In 1928 he had his first hit with a jazz-influenced rendition of Ol' Man River. Bing and the boys made an appearance in the 1930 film King of Jazz , with the Whiteman orchestra. After the film the Rhythm Boys and Whiteman parted. Next the trio joined Gus Arnheim at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. Bing's solos attracted attention and this launched him into a career as a single. In 1931 Mack Sennett signed Bing to make film shorts. The early 1930s saw Bing in bit parts performing in movies and on radio. In late 1932 he was featured in the film The Big Broadcast of 1932 . In 1933 he had his first staring role in College Humor .
Bing was in a number of outstanding musicals over the next quarter century. He recorded many hit songs for Brunswick including, Out of Nowhere, Just One More Chance , At Your Command and I Found Million Dollar Baby (In A Five and Ten Cent Store) . In the late 1930s his style changed and captured a new mood. In 1936 he became the host of radios Kraft Music Hall. In 1937 Bing opened the Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar, California and collected tickets at the turnstile on opening day. His investment in racehorses that rarely won, were frequent sources of jokes in Hollywood. Bing along with Bob Hope co-starred with Dorothy Lamour in the 1940 film Road To Singapore . This led to a series of popular "Road" pictures.
One of Bing's best films was the 1942 blockbuster, Holiday Inn , where the score included, White Christmas . Irving Berlin won an Academy Award for Best Song. White Christmas went on to become one of the biggest selling songs in the history of music. After his Brunswick records Bing recorded mostly for Decca. Some hits included Pistol Packin' Mama , Don't Fence Me In , Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral and Swinging On A Star . Bing won an Academy Award in the 1944 movie Going My Way . Bing made appearances on early TV, and in 1964-65 his own TV show. His activities slowed but he made many guest appearances throughout the remainder of his life.
On the day of his death he played a full 18 holes of golf and won the match. Walking off the green of the La Moraleja Golf Club, in a suburb of Madrid, Spain, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.
At the time of his death in 1977, he was the biggest selling recording artist of all time. Bing received 23 gold records and was awarded platinum discs for his two biggest selling singles, White Christmas in 1960 and Silent Night in 1970. He is pictured on a 29 cent U.S. commemorative postage stamp in the "Legends of American Music" series, issued in 1994. Bing was awarded 3 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 1611 Vine Street, for Radio at 6769 Hollywood Boulevard, and for Recording at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. Bing Crosby is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California in the Grotto section, L119, #1.
1. Al Jolson
2. Ethel Waters
3. Frank Sinatra
5. Lena Horne
6. Louis Armstrong
7. Nat Cole
8. Mel Torme
9. Judy Garland
10.. Victor Borge
Crosby adds: "These are not listed in order of preference and include no actors, only performers. I could of course, list hundreds more."
* From The Book of Lists