Harry Lillis Crosby – better known as Bing Crosby – was an American singer, actor, and song writer that achieved great popularity in radio, recordings, and motion pictures. He became the archetypal crooner of a period when the advent of radio broadcasting and talking pictures and the refinement of sound-recording techniques made the climate ideal for the rise of such a figure. His casual stage manner and mellow, relaxed singing style influenced two generations of pop singers and made him the most successful entertainer of his day.
He had acquired the nickname ‘Bing’ when he was in elementary school although it is unclear whether it came from a prank on a teacher or from a love for the comic strip of the time The Bingville Bugle. He came from a musical family and began to sing and to play the drums while studying law in Washington. In the late 1920’s he was singing with the Paul Whiteman orchestra and, in 1931, he appeared in the early sound film King of Jazz. In 1932 he got his own program on the CBS radio station in New York City and began appearing in more films, so much so that by the late 1930s his records were selling millions of copies.
But let us take him back the late 1920s.
Bing and music really began when he started singing and playing drums in a small band called ‘Musicaladers’ that played at school dances and in social functions. Bing and Alton Rinker – the brother of singer Mildred Bailey – dropped out of college in 1925 to try to make a success as a singing duo. Their target was West Coast – the home of Mildred and vaudeville theatres! Mildred had contacts and introduced Bing and Alton to ‘a very big theatrical agent’ – they were on their way. Some 18 months later the pair was hired by Paul Whiteman – at the time the leader of the most popular dance orchestra in the country!
Soon the two became three when Harry Barnes – a singer-pianist – joined them. The Rhythm Boys developed a lightly swinging, easy-going vocal style that soon became one of the most popular elements of Paul Whiteman’s stage shows – AND his radio programs and recordings.
Bing had the most distinctive voice of the trio and, increasingly, was given chances to ‘go solo’ within the three. He began developing a following from the younger members of the audience – so much so that he was assigned a key solo spot in a major production number. The number was ‘Song of the Dawn’ which the Whiteman band filmed in Hollywood in 1930.
But …… things didn’t quite go to plan – but we’ll worry about that next week!