Friday, 23 May 2014

Bing Crosby, The Legend

You can't collect 78 rpm records without coming across those of Bing Crosby. There are hundreds of them to collect and many thousands of copies still out there to find. In fact his biography on Billboard.com reckons he had half a billion recordings floating about!

Born Harry Lillis Crosby on 3 May 1903, he became known as "Bing" from a nickname given him by a neighbour, "Bingo from Bingville" after a cartoon strip.

He was married twice. His first wife, Dixie Lee was a singer with Fox and was far more famous than Bing when they married in 1930. Indeed one headline quoted: "Well Known Fox Star Marries Bing Croveny"... Basically a shy person though, she hated singing in public or working with strangers in films. She turned into a recluse, inadvertently aided by Bing's unavoidable professional absences and died of cancer in 1952. They had four sons.

His second wife was actress Kathryn Grant. Familiar to any Ray Harryhausen fan, she played the princess in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. In fact, after several cancelled wedding dates, Bing wrote to her in Spain as she was filming this movie, offering to marry her at any time at any place of her choosing. They had three children, one of whom, Mary, would go on infamously to shoot J.R. Ewing in the TV show Dallas.

I have around forty 78s featuring Bing. A few feature him with The Andrews Sisters, one with his son, Gary, (Sam's Song); one with Grace Kelly (True Love) and one with Bill Bendix and Sir Cecil Hardwicke (Busy Doing Nothing). There are some great songs including some wonderful cowboy songs from early on in his career.

He is best known today for this song, from the film of the same name: White Christmas. Almost amazingly, it was a B side at the time of its first release, after it was featured in an earlier film, Holiday Inn. His series of "Road" films with Bob Hope were hilarious - I can't understand why they don't turn up on TV more often these days.

But it is for his music that he is most remembered. In the 1940s it was reckoned that one record out of every ten on jukeboxes was a Bing Crosby record. He was though an astute businessman. His interest in wanting to pre-record radio shows rather than do them "live" led to his involvement with the development of recording tape and tape recorders and he was involved with Ampex, giving an early machine to his friend Les Paul, who went on to invent multi-track recording.

There's a lot more to Bing Crosby than snow and a Christmas Tree...!

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