Al Rinker (1907 – 1982), a well-known U.S. jazz singer and songwriter, played a crucial role in Bing Crosby’s career: During his college years, Rinker was Bing Crosby’s duo partner. Rinker’s sister Mildred Bailey, a famous jazz singer, introduced the Crosby-Rinker duo to bandleader Paul Whiteman: Whiteman was one of the most influential bandleaders at the time and hired Crosby and Rinker as rhythm boys in his band.
The reason for his engagement was his unique, light bass-baritone voice: Crosby advanced to become the star of the Rhythm Boys and recorded hits like Ol’ Man River (1928).
Bing Crosby made his film debut in the Paul Whiteman film King of Jazz (1930). No one could have guessed that, in addition to his career as a singer, he also had a promising acting career ahead of him.
Initially, Bing Crosby studied law in Spokane in the U.S. state of Washington. When he realized that his work as a singer was more lucrative than the work of his lawyer friends, he decided to devote himself entirely to his passion: Acting and singing.
At that time, it was still unusual to make a living entirely from an engagement as a singer: Thanks to the success of the Paul Whiteman band, the Rhythm Boys were the first band singers who could make a living from their work. That put an end to the hypothesis that there is no money in art.
Beginnings as an actor and singer
Bing Crosby’s vocal style was based on that of Louis Armstrong, among others – Crosby understood how to incorporate contemporary stylistic elements into his singing and thus created a recognizable sound.
It didn’t take long for the Hollywood film industry to take notice of the young singer: In the film The Big Broadcast (1932), Bing Crosby played his first leading role.
In 1940 the comedy series Road was launched, in which he starred alongside Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour: the Road series between 1940 and 1962 included a total of seven films, always revolving around a trip to a famous city or island.
Crosby starred in the musical film Birth of the Blues (1941): the film revolves around the history of the blues. Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman played themselves in the film – Crosby played jazz enthusiast Jeff Lambert, who is inspired by jazz music from an early age.
Between 1932 and 1935, Crosby recorded numerous jazz standards, including St. Louis Blues and Sweet Georgia Brown.
In the FIlm Holiday Inn (1942), Bing Crosby sang Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for the first time alongside Fred Astaire: the film won an Oscar for Best Song for it. White Christmas later became one of the best-selling hits ever. To this day, the title White Christmas is mentioned in the same breath as the singer Bing Crosby.
New standards of recording technology
In the course of the 1940s, Bing Crosby advanced to become one of the most famous U.S. singers. Like Marlene Dietrich, Crosby traveled to the war front during World War II and entertained American troops.
During his time on the war front in Germany, Bing Crosby made a discovery: after occupying a recording studio, Crosby and his entourage were tipped off that they should take a look at the recording equipment on site. As it turned out, the recording equipment they found was far superior to the American standard. Crosby and his entourage transported the equipment to the United States and installed it in various recording studios, revolutionizing the standard for sound recording in the United States. Listening to recordings made by Crosby before and after World War II, one can indeed discern a difference in recording quality.
Billy Wilder made the 1948 film musical The Emperor Waltz (1948): In the film, Crosby sings the song I Kiss Your Hand, Madame, an English translation of the Richard Tauber hit of the same name.
In 1954 and 1956, Bing Crosby starred in two films alongside Grace Kelly: in The Country Girl (1956), Crosby played theater actor Frank Elgin, who is brought back to Broadway by the well-known Broadway director Bernie Dodd (William Holden) after a career setback. For the film, Grace Kelly received her only Oscar: alongside Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly was able to realize the full potential of her character role, the role of wife Georgie Elgin.
The musical High Society (1956) gathered the who’s who of the US music industry at the time: the film starred Bing Crosby, and also featured Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong with his band. Grace Kelly plays the role of Tracy Lord. Together with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly made her only record: Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly’s duo True Love remains one of the most memorable musical duos of the fifties.
Bing Crosby didn’t just star in musicals during his acting career: in 1966, Crosby landed a role in the western Stagecoach, a remake of the 1939 John Ford western of the same name.
Career & Legacy
Throughout his singing career, Bing Crosby helped bring jazz to a wider audience: his interpretations diverged from the style of mainstream jazz performers. Moreover, he was one of the first singers to incorporate a kind of intimacy into his singing: Instead of warbling loudly, Crosby used the properties of the microphone (a relatively new invention at the time) to create an intimate atmosphere on recordings and to pay more attention to the lyrics than other performers. Bing Crosby shared a lifelong friendship with jazz legend Louis Armstrong: early in his career, Crosby had met the pioneers of jazz. Today, Crosby is best known for his numerous interpretations of Christmas songs: however, Bing Crosby’s repertoire as an actor and interpreter of music is far more extensive. His engagements alongside great 20th century actors and jazz legends alike make him an unforgettable artist to this day.