Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby (May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977) was one of the most popular and influential American singers and actors of the 20th century whose career flourished from 1926 until his death in 1977.
Known for his large range, rich baritone and vibrant, clear enunciation, Crosby is considered one of the finest vocalists ever, and is credited as being the inspiration for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, and more recently Michael Bublé. In 1992, Artie Shaw offered his opinion of Crosby's place in American culture in these terms: "The thing you have to understand about Bing Crosby is that he was the first hip white person born in the United States"1.
Harry Lillis Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington on May 3, 1903 in a house that his father built (1112 North J Street, Tacoma, Washington). His family later moved to Spokane, Washington in 1906 to find work. He was the fourth of seven children - five boys Larry (1895-1975), Everett (born 1896), Ted (born 1900) and Bob (1913-1993) and two girls Catherine (born 1905) and Mary Rose (born 1907) - born to English-American Harry Lowe Crosby (1871-1950), a bookkeeper and Irish-American Catherine Harrigan (1873-1964), (affectionately known as Kate), the daughter of a builder from County Mayo in Ireland. His paternal ancestors Thomas Prence and Patience Brewster were born in England and immigrated to the U.S. in the 17th century; Brewster's family came over on the Mayflower.
It should be noted that Bing Crosby had no birth certificate and that his birth date was shrouded in mystery until his childhood Roman Catholic church in Tacoma, Washington, released the baptismal records that revealed his date of birth.
The nickname "Bing" was bestowed upon on him by a childhood friend, Valentine Hobart, who shared Bing's interest in a newspaper comic strip called "The Bingville Bugle". Valentine Hobart began calling Harry Crosby "Bingo from Bingville." Eventually the nickname was shortened to "Bing" and was adopted by Bing's other friends and even his teachers.
Bing Crosby's parents loved music and they both loved to sing. Bing was even sent away to singing lessons, but dropped out because he did not like the demands of the training. Bing's favorite singer and idol was Al Jolson. However, Bing's style is quite different from Jolson's loud, high volume approach to singing.
Bing enrolled in the Jesuit-run Gonzaga College in Spokane, Washington in the fall of 1920 with the intent to become a lawyer. While in Gonzaga he sent away for a set of mail order drums. After much practice he soon became good enough and was invited to join a local band which was made up of mostly local high school kids called the "Musicaladers", managed by one Al Rinker. He made so much money doing this he decided to drop out of school during his final year, to pursue a career in show business.
In 1926, Crosby caught the eye of Paul Whiteman (a.k.a The King of Jazz) while singing on the vaudeville in Los Angeles. Hired to join one of the most popular bands in America, the fledgling vocalist would receive a musical education from the greatest musicians of the era. Unlike the typical vaudeville "shouters," he learned to work the microphone (and the crowd) drawing the audience in with his smooth, gentle crooning.
Bing soon became the star attraction of the band and sang Whiteman's biggest hit of 1928, "Ol' Man River." However, his repeated youthful peccadilloes forced Whiteman to fire him 1930. Crosby had no desire to step out on his own, but was now forced into a solo career.
In early 1931, Bing landed his first hit under his own name with "I Surrender, Dear." He contined to chart throughout the year with "Out Of Nowhere," "Just One More Chance," "Wrap your Troubles In Dreams" and "I Found A Million Dollar Baby." Crosby became so popular that Mack Sennett (of Keystone Kops fame) signed him up for six two reelers, each based on one of his songs. (Today this is Redistributed under the title of "Road to Hollywood.")
That same year (1931), Bing made his solo debut, co-starring with The Carl Fenton Orchestra on a popular CBS radio show and by 1936, replaced his former boss, Paul Whiteman, as the host of NBC's Kraft Music Hall, a weekly radio program where he would remain for the next ten years.
Crosby's entertainment trifecta led to major motion picture contract with Paramount Pictures beginning with The Big Broadcast Of 1932. This led to his appearances in 79 Movies, most of which he headlined. Perhaps most fondly remembered as an actor for the series of seven jaunty musical comedy "Road pictures" with Bob Hope (Road to Morocco, Road to Bali, etc.), he also won 5 Academy Awards in various categories and was nominated for another three.
During the War, Crosby gave great emphasis to live appearances before American troops fighting in the European Theater. He also learned how to pronounce German from written scripts, and would read them in propaganda broadcasts intended for the German forces. The nickname "der Bingel" for him was understood to have become current among German listeners, and came to be used by his English-speaking fans. In a poll of U.S. troops at the close of WWII, Crosby topped the list as the person who did the most for G.I. morale (beating out Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and one Leslie Townes "Bob Hope"
Crosby's biggest musical hit was his recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", which he introduced through a 1941 Christmas-season radio broadcast and the movie Holiday Inn. Bing's recording hit the charts on Oct. 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on Oct. 31, where it stayed for an amazing 11 weeks. In the following years Bing's recording hit the top-30 pop charts another 16 times, even topping the charts again in 1945 and January of '47. The song remains Bing's best-selling recording, and the best-selling Christmas single of all-time with estimates between 30 to 45 million albums sold. In 1998 after a long absence, his 1947 version hit the charts in Britain, and as of 2005 remains the North American holiday-season standard.
Crosby also had regular radio shows from the 1930s through the 1950s. During the 1940s he recorded many songs with the Andrews Sisters. He starred in a network television sitcom in 1964 and 1965, and made numerous short films and television appearances.
Crosby's desire to pre-record his radio shows, combined with a dissatisfaction with the available aluminum recording disks, was a significant factor in the development of magnetic tape recording and the radio industry's adoption of it. Crosby became an investor in Ampex, and Bing Crosby Enterprises became a distributor of the Ampex 200 tape recorder used to record the radio programs. History repeated when Crosby was asked to do a television show and demanded that it be pre-recorded, spurring the development and adoption of videotape.
As arguably the most popular musical act of the 20th century, Bing Crosby played a central role in American cultural and musical history. Even today his statistics are dazzling; 1,700 recordings, 383 of those in the top 30, and of those, 41 hit No. 1. For 15 years (1934, 1937, 1940, 1943-1954) he was among the top 10 in box office draw, and for five of those years (1944-49) he was the largest in the world. He sang four [[Academy Award]-winning songs (For "Sweet Leilani" , "White Christmas" , "Swinging on a Star" , "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening"  and won an acting Oscar for "Going My way" , a movie in which he also won two Golden Globe Awards. He also collected 23 gold and platinum records which is quite amazing considering gold and platinum records did not come into existence until 1958, after which Crosby was considered retired. In 1962 Crosby became the first recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a list that now contains a plethora of musical legends. He has been inducted into the respective halls of fame for both radio and popular music. His music sales are estimated at between 500 000 000 (Five Hundred Million) to 900 000 000 (Nine Hundred Million).
Crosby was married twice. He was married to actress/nightclub singer Dixie Lee from 1930 until her death from ovarian cancer in 1952. They had four sons (Gary, Dennis, Phillip and Lindsay). Dixie was an alcoholic, and the 1947 film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is indirectly based on her life. After Dixie's death, Bing married the much-younger actress Kathryn Grant in 1957 and they had three children together, including Harry, Mary, (best known as being the woman who shot J.R. Ewing on Dallas) and Nathaniel.
After Bing's death from a heart attack at age 74 while golfing in Madrid, Spain, his eldest son from his first marriage, Gary Crosby, wrote a highly critical memoir (Going My Own Way) depicting Bing as cold, remote, as well as physically and psychologically abusive. As is often the case in situations of child abuse, one sibling sides with the abusive parent. In this case, it was Phillip Crosby, who later frequently disputed his brother Gary's claims about their father. In an interview conducted in 1999 by the Globe, Phillip is quoted as saying, "My dad was not the monster my lying brother said he was, He was strict, but my father never beat us black and blue and my brother Gary was a vicious, no-good liar for saying so. I have nothing but fond memories of dad, going to studios with him, family vacations at our cabin in Idaho, boating and fishing with him. To my dying day, I'll hate Gary for dragging dad's name through the mud. He wrote (Going My Own Way) out of greed. He wanted to make money and knew that humiliating our father and blackening his name was the only way he could do it. He knew it would generate a lot of publicity and that was the only way he could get his ugly, no-talent face on television and in the newspapers. My dad was my hero. I loved him very much. And he loved all of us too, including Gary. He was a great father." Phillip passed away in 2004. The Los Angeles Coroner would not reveal the specific cause of Phillip's death at age 69, possibly sparing the Crosby family of yet another suicide.
Two of Bing's children, Lindsay and Dennis, committed suicide. It was widely published at the time of Lindsay's December 11th death that he ended his life the day after watching his father sing "White Christmas" on television. Dennis ended his life two years later, grieving over his brother's death, and battered, just as his brother had been, by alcoholism, failed relationships, and lackluster career. Both brothers were subsisting on small allowances from their father's trust fund; both died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head.
Nathaniel Crosby, his youngest son from his second marriage, was a high-level golfer who won the U.S. Amateur at age 19 in 1981, becoming the youngest-ever winner of that event (a record later broken by Tiger Woods).
At his death, he was worth over $150 million USD due to his shrewed investments in oil, real estate, and other commodities, making him one of Hollywood's then wealthiest residents along with Fred MacMurray and best friend Bob Hope. He left a clause in his will stating that his sons from his first marriage could not collect their inheritance money until they were in their 80s. Bing felt that they had already been amply taken care of by a trust fund set up by their mother, Dixie Lee. All four sons continued to collect monies from that fund until their deaths. However, none lived long enough to collect any of their inheritance from their father.
- He turned down an offer to play "Columbo" because he didn't want it to interfere with his golf schedule.
- Crosby recorded a version of Little Drummer Boy with David Bowie just one month prior to his death. The duet went on to attain cult status and charted well in countries around the world.
- Bing Crosby died after a round of eighteen holes in which he shot a respectable 85. Of his death, biographer Giddins has written: "His last words were characteristic. Walking off the eighteenth green of the La Moraleja Golf Club, in a suburb of Madrid, Bing Crosby said, 'That was a great game of golf, fellas,' and then took a few steps and was gone"2. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. October 14, 1977, he suffered a massive heart attack. Although these were reported as having been Crosby's last words, it is believed that his actual last words were, "Let's go get a Coke."
- Crosby was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
- Bing Crosby had a very large vocal range as best illustrated by a leading Vocal critic, Henry Pleasants. "The octave B flat to B flat in Bing's voice at that time [1930s] is, to my ears, one of the loveliest I have heard in forty-five years of listening to baritones, both classical and popular. It dropped conspicuously in later years. Since the mid-1950s, Bing has been more comfortable in a bass range while maintaining a baritone quality, with the best octave being G to G, or even F to F. In a recording he made of 'Dardanella' with Louis Armstrong in 1960, he attacks lightly and easily on a low E flat. This is lower than most opera basses care to venture, and they tend to sound as if they were in the cellar when they get there. (Pleasants, The Great American Popular Singers, p132)
- The King of Jazz (1930)
- Two Plus Fours (1930) (short subject)
- Check and Double Check (1930)
- Reaching for the Moon (1930)
- Confessions of a Co-Ed (1931)
- One More Chance (1931) (short subject)
- Billboard Girl (1932) (short subject)
- Hollywood on Parade (1932) (short subject)
- The Big Broadcast (1932)
- Hollywood on Parade No. 11 (1933) (short subject)
- Blue of the Night (1933) (short subject)
- Dream House (1933) (short subject)
- Sing, Bing, Sing (1933) (short subject)
- Hollywood on Parade No. 9 (1933) (short subject)
- College Humor (1933)
- Too Much Harmony (1933)
- Please (1933) (short subject)
- Going Hollywood (1933)
- Just an Echo (1934) (short subject)
- We're Not Dressing (1934)
- I Surrender Dear (1934) (short subject)
- She Loves Me Not (1934)
- Star Night at the Cocoanut Grove (1934) (short subject)
- Here Is My Heart (1934)
- Mississippi (1935)
- Two for Tonight (1935)
- The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935)
- Anything Goes (1936)
- Rhythm on the Range (1936)
- Pennies from Heaven (1936)
- Waikiki Wedding (1937)
- Double or Nothing (1937)
- Don't Hook Now (1938) (short subject)
- Dr. Rhythm (1938)
- Hollywood Handicap (1938) (short subject)
- Sing You Sinners (1938)
- Screen Snapshots: Stars on Horseback (1939) (short subject)
- Paris Honeymoon (1939)
- East Side of Heaven (1939)
- The Star Maker (1939)
- Road to Singapore (1940)
- Screen Snapshots Series 19, No. 6 (1940) (short subject)
- Swing with Bing (1940) (short subject)
- Rhythm on the River (1940)
- If I Had My Way (1940)
- Angels of Mercy (1941) (short subject)
- Road to Zanzibar (1941)
- Birth of the Blues (1941)
- My Favorite Blonde (1942) (cameo)
- Holiday Inn (1942)
- Road to Morocco (1942)
- Star Spangled Rhythm (1942)
- Show Business at War (1943) (short subject)
- Dixie (1943)
- Higher and Higher (1944) (cameo) (unconfirmed role)
- Going My Way (1944)
- Road to Victory (1944) (short subject)
- The Princess and the Pirate (1944) (cameo)
- Here Come the Waves (1944)
- The All-Star Bond Rally (1945) (short subject)
- Duffy's Tavern (1945)
- Hollywood Victory Caravan (1945) (short subject)
- The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Celebrations (1945) (short subject)
- Road to Hollywood (Documentry)
- Road to Utopia (1945)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Fathers and Sons (1946) (short subject)
- Blue Skies (1946)
- My Favorite Brunette (1947) (cameo)
- Welcome Stranger (1947)
- Variety Girl (1947)
- Road to Rio (1947)
- The Emperor Waltz (1948)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Happy Homes (1949) (short subject)
- Jolson Sings Again (1949) (voice)
- Top o' the Morning (1949)
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) (voice)
- Alberta Vacation (1950) (short subject)
- Riding High (1950)
- Screen Actors (1950) (short subject)
- Mr. Music (1950)
- You Can Change the World (1951) (short subject)
- Here Comes the Groom (1951)
- Angels in the Outfield (1951) (cameo)
- The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) (cameo)
- Son of Paleface (1952) (cameo)
- Just for You (1952)
- Crusade for Prayer (1952) (short subject)
- Road to Bali (1952)
- Off Limits (1953) (appears on a TV)
- Scared Stiff (1953) (cameo)
- Little Boy Lost (1953)
- White Christmas (1954)
- The Country Girl (1954)
- Hollywood Mothers and Fathers (1955) (short subject)
- Showdown at Ulcer Gulch (1956) (short subject)
- Bing Presents Oreste (1956) (short subject)
- Anything Goes (1956)
- High Society (1956)
- The Heart of Show Business (1957) (short subject)
- Man on Fire (1957)
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1958) (short subject) (voice)
- Alias Jesse James (1959) (cameo)
- Say One for Me (1959)
- Let's Make Love (1960) (cameo)
- High Time (1960)
- Pepe (1960) (cameo)
- The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
- Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
- Cinerama's Russian Adventure (1966) (documentary) (narrator)
- Stagecoach (1966)
- Bing Crosby's Washington State (1968) (short subject)
- Dr. Cook's Garden(1971)
- The World of Sport Fishing (1972) (documentary)
- Cancel My Reservation (1972) (cameo)
- Just One More Time (1974) (short subject)
- That's Entertainment! (1974)
These Are Crosby's LPs
- 1953 Le Bing: Song Hits of Paris
- 1953 Some Fine Old Chestnuts
- 1953 White Christmas soundtrack (w/ Peggy Lee and Danny Kaye)
- 1954 Bing: A Musical Autobiography
- 1956 High Society
- 1956 Songs I Wish I Had Sung the First Time Around
- 1956 Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings
- 1957 Bing with a Beat
- 1957 New Tricks
- 1958 Fancy Meeting You Here ( w/ Rosemary Clooney)
- 1959 How the West was Won
- 1959 Join Bing and Sing Along
- 1960 El Senor Bing
- 1960 Bing and Satchmo
- 1960 101 Gang Songs
- 1961 Holiday in Europe
- 1962 On the Happy Side
- 1962 I Wish You a Merry Christmas
- 1963 Return to Paradise Islands
- 1963 Great Country Hits
- 1964 That Traveling Two-Beat (w/ Rosemary Clooney)
- 1965 The Songs I Love
- 1968 Thoroughly Modern Bing
- 1968 The Songs I Love
- 1968 Hey Jude Hey Bing
- 1971 A Time to Be Jolly
- 1972 Bing 'n' Basie
- 1975 A Southern Memoir
- 1975 That's What Life Is All About
- 1975 Bingo Viejo
- 1975 A Couple of Song and Dance Men
- 1976 Bing Crosby Live at the London Palladium
- 1976 At My Time of Life
- 1976 Feels Good Feels Right
- 1976 Beautiful Memories
- 1977 Seasons
- Giddins, Gary. A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years, 1903-1940. Boston, New York, & London: Little, Brown and Company, 2001. ISBN 0316886459
- A Pocketful of Dreams, p. 259
- A Pocketful of Dreams, p. 3
- The Steven Lewis Internet Museum
- Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley Comparison Page
-  - Bing Crosby sales estimates
-  - Bing Crosby sales estimates
- Most Popular Entertainer of the Twentieth Century - a statistical analysis arguing why this title should go to Bing Crosby
- Bing Crosby Internet Museum
- Bing Crosby at the Internet Movie Database
- Immortal Talent's of Bing Crosby - (A definitive fan site)
- Most popular Singers of the 20th centurycy:Bing Crosby