Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby (May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977)
was a popular American singer and actor whose career stretched over more
than half a century from 1926 until his death. Crosby was the
best-selling recording artist until well into the rock era, with over
half a billion records in circulation.
One of the first multimedia stars, from 1934 to 1954 Bing Crosby held
a nearly unrivaled command of record sales, radio ratings and motion
picture grosses. Widely recognized as one of the most popular musical acts in history,
Crosby is also credited as being the major inspiration for most of the
male singers of the era that followed him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.
Yank magazine recognized Crosby as the person
who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and,
during his peak years, around 1948, polls declared him the “most
admired man alive,” ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII.
Also during 1948, the Music Digest estimated that Crosby
recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to
recorded radio music.
Crosby exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. In 1947, he invested $50,000 in the Ampex company, which developed North America’s first commercial reel-to-reel tape recorder, and Crosby became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings on magnetic tape. He gave one of the first Ampex Model 200 recorders to his friend, musician Les Paul, which led directly to Paul’s invention of multitrack recording. Along with Frank Sinatra, he was one of the principal backers behind the famous United Western Recorders studio complex in Los Angeles.
Through the aegis of recording, Crosby developed the techniques of
constructing his broadcast radio programs with the same directorial
tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal, time shifting)
that occurred in a theatrical motion picture production. This feat
directly led the way to applying the same techniques to creating all
radio broadcast programming as well as later television programming. The
quality of the recorded programs gave them commercial value for
re-broadcast. This led the way to the syndicated market for all short
feature media such as TV series episodes.
In 1962, Crosby was the first person to be recognized with the Grammy
Global Achievement Award. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way. Crosby is one of the few people to have three stars on
the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2005, I was hired as Entertainment Director for a large restaurant and piano club called, Bing Crosby’s. Katheryn Crosby is part owner of Bing Crosby’s and I had the opportunity to work with her on several shows. During that time, I had the opportunity to record a CD which was co-produced by Bing Crosby’s. It is called, Paul Roth, “A Sentimental Journey” at Bing Crosby’s. On more than one occasion I was invited to her home in Hillsboro, CA to rehearse. A visit to the Crosby mansion is also a trip down “Hollywood Memory Lane” as there are reminders of Bing Crosby in every corner. Katheryn kept his study exactly as it was when Bing was alive and one has the feeling that he could be coming home at any moment. In the main living room, the grand piano that once graced the set of “High Society” is prominently featured. It is also the piano we used for our rehearsals. Katheryn was a gracious hostess especially given the endless number of questions I had about Bing’s and Katheryn’s careers. A visit with Katheryn is nothing short of a living account of everyone and everything related to the Hollywood of long ago. It was fascinating!
Here’s a couple of photos taken at Bing Crosby’s in Walnut Creek, CA 2005. That’s me (Paul Roth) at the piano, and Katheryn Crosby singing.