April 29, 2004


Bing Crosby: Singer of the Century (Thomas Sowell, April 29, 2004, Jewish World Review)

May 2, 2004 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bing Crosby, whose recorded voice continues to sing "White Christmas" every Yuletide.

Other singers who came after him, including Sinatra and Elvis, had their day but it was Bing Crosby who first put American popular songs on the map around the world. At one time, more people had heard the voice of Bing Crosby than that of any other human being.

Part of this was due to the times but much of it was due to the man himself. Bing Crosby came of age just when radio, recorded music, and motion pictures were coming of age during the 1920s and 1930s. Though he was one of many entertainers of that era, Crosby clearly became Number One — and remained so for years.

Bing Crosby's casual, even breezy, style of singing was part of the reason for his great popularity — and it influenced later singers who followed in his wake. It was a kind of singing that seemed as if anyone, amateur or professional, could do.

That was part of the greatness of his art, that it looked like it wasn't art. He didn't make a fuss about it but he made history with it. It was a little like the way Joe DiMaggio played centerfield, making it look easy, even when it was superb.

One of the great things about the trend-sucking dilettantism of popular tastes (or lack of any) in our mass culture is that the best art is generally available rather cheap. So you can probably pop into K-Mart or Wal-Mart and find a phenomenal Bing Crosby cd and a Hope and Crosby "Road" movie for a total of $15 or less. The most amusing thing about the films is that these two conventional conservatives exhausted the postmodernist/metafictional bag of tricks years before academics stumbled onto them and thought they were launching a revolution.

-INTERVIEW: Gary Giddins conversation on Bing Crosby (Jerry Jazz Musician, March 2001)
-INTERVIEW: Gary Giddins (Andrew Ford, 10/05/2003, The Music Show)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Jazz Critic and Writer Gary Giddins (Fresh Air, May 27, 2003)
-REVIEW: of A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins (David Hajdu, The Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins (Chris Morris, LA Weekly)
-REVIEW: of A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins (Benjamin Ivry, The Christian Science Monitor)
-REVIEW: of A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins (Allen Barra, Salon)

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2004 9:39 AM


Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 29, 2004 10:33 AM

Bing Crosby was a seminal influence in the development of reggae. Instrumentalists on the island wanted to play music influenced by the R&B they heard on American radio stations aimed at black Americans. The crowd wanted dance music. The singers wanted to croon like Bing, whom they heard on stations aimed at white Americans. Reggae developed from the beats invented to make everyone happy.

Bing provided the venture capital to a startup called Ampex, which developed the first practical tape recorder. When the first four-track Ampex recorder hit the market, the Andrews Sisters bought one and promptly invented vocal overdubbing. This led to the highly produced style which dominates popular music today.

Arguably, he's the central figure in 20th century popular music.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at April 29, 2004 11:40 AM

Bing Crosby was a dangerous radical subversive whose music should be repressed. True conservatives only listen to Perry Como.

Posted by: Peter B at April 29, 2004 12:39 PM

Great voice, bastard father to the first set of kids.

And Kathrine couldn't remarry according to his will, chould she?

Posted by: Sandy P at April 29, 2004 12:47 PM

And he was part owner of a baseball team and he and Hope popularized golf and the pro tour.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 1:49 PM

"It's Been a Long, Long Time", but Bing also gave this fellow his start, who would go on to bridge the gap between the popular music of the first and second halves of the 20th century. (And who's still around today!)


Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 29, 2004 3:36 PM

Wait a minute!

This guy isn't describing Crosby, he's describing Crosby's main influence, Louis Armstrong...listen to Bing's recordings with Whiteman before he heard Louis sing pop tunes, and listen to him afterward...Bing himself said: Do you realize that the greatest pop singer in the wirld that ever was and ever will be is Louis Armstrong?"

Posted by: Foos at April 29, 2004 3:41 PM

Agree Foos. His duet with Satch on "Gone Fishin'" is a classic too seldom played.

Posted by: Jeff at April 29, 2004 3:43 PM

"Arguably, he's the central figure in 20th century popular music."

It's pretty much a tie between him and Armstrong; and you cant go wrong with whichever one you pick.

They mutually influenced each other in any event. And while Bing's influence drips down through Dean Martin to Martin fan Elvis Presley, Louis had chart hits up into the late 60s as a solo act, and still managed to cross-pollinate the music scene whether playing accompaniment to Country father Jimmie Rodgers on "Blue Yodel Number 9" or serving as an influence on the instrumental stylings of all Jazz musicians since or as a vocal influence on nearly every pop singer for 25 years.

These 2 men dominated the landscape of American music for nearly 35 years from say 1925-1960. We are still listening to them or to those who reacted against what they were producing.

Posted by: cornetofhorse at April 29, 2004 3:48 PM

Hey, that's nice: the Jerry Jazz Musician interview with Giddins has a Real Audio file of "Gone Fishin'". You can also listen to it by clicking here.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 29, 2004 4:46 PM

You're right, the great stuff is often unbelievably cheap. I have three mp3s that contain about 160 hours of the marvelous Jack Benny, easily as important an American cultural figure as Crosby (and with whom Crosby often vied for top spot in the ratings for their radio shows), and they cost $15. Fifteen bucks. There's tons more, of Benny and many other great radio shows (including Der Bingle's), floating around on the Internet, all cheap, most in excellent sound. But in the national consciousness, radio isn't even a "lost art" anymore--it just never existed.

Posted by: John G. Martin at April 29, 2004 9:44 PM