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.
By 1926, Crosby had formed a vocal duo with partner Al Rinker. While singing at Los Angeles Metropolitan Theater, they caught the ear of Paul Whiteman, who was at that time America's most famous bandleader. Hired for $150 a week, they made their debut on December 6, 1926 at the Tivoli Theatre (Chicago). Their first recording was "I've Got The Girl," with Don Clark's Orchestra, but the Columbia-issued record did them no vocal favors, as it was inadvertently recorded at a speed slower than it should have been, which increased the singers' pitch when played at 78 rpm.
Even as the Crosby and Rinker duo was increasing in popularity, Whiteman added a third member to the group. The threesome, now including pianist and aspiring songwriter Harry Barris, were dubbed "The Rhythm Boys".
Crosby soon became the star attraction of the Rhythm Boys, and in 1928 had his first number one hit with the Whiteman orchestra, a jazz-influenced rendition of "Ol' Man River". However, Crosby's reported taste for alcohol and his growing dissatisfaction with Whiteman led to the Rhythm Boys quitting to join the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. During his time with Arnheim, the other two Rhythm Boys were increasingly pushed to the background as the emphasis was on Crosby. Harry Barris wrote several of Crosby's subsequent hits including "At Your Command," "I Surrender Dear", and "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams. But the members of the band had a falling out and split, setting the stage for Crosby's solo career.
On September 2, 1931, Crosby made his solo radio debut. By the end of the year, he'd signed with both Brunswick Records and CBS Radio. Doing a weekly 15 minute radio broadcast, Crosby quickly became a huge hit. His songs "Out of Nowhere", "Just One More Chance", "At Your Command" and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)" were all among the best selling songs of 1931.
As the 1930s unfolded, Crosby became the leading singer in America. Ten of the top 50 songs for 1931 featured Crosby, either solo or with others. A so-called "Battle of the Baritones" with singing star Russ Columbo proved short-lived, replaced with the slogan "Bing Was King." Crosby signed a long-term deal with Jack Kapp's new record company Decca, and starred in his first full-length feature, 1932's “The Big Broadcast,” the first of 55 films in which he received top billing. He would appear in 79 pictures.
Around this time Crosby co-starred on radio with The Carl Fenton Orchestra on a popular CBS radio show. By 1936, he'd replaced his former boss, Paul Whiteman, as the host of NBC's “Kraft Music Hall,” the weekly radio program where he remained for the next ten years. "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)", which also showcased one of his then-trademark whistling interludes, became his theme song and signature tune.
Crosby made numerous live appearances before American troops fighting in the European Theater. He also learned how to pronounce German from written scripts, and would read propaganda broadcasts intended for the German forces. The nickname "Der Bingle" for him was understood to have become current among Crosby's German listeners, and came to be used by his English-speaking fans. In a poll of U.S. troops at the close of World War II, Crosby topped the list as the person who had done the most for G.I. morale, ahead of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower, and Bob Hope.
The biggest hit of Crosby's career was his recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", which he introduced through a radio broadcast during the 1942 Christmas season, and the movie “Holiday Inn.”
Crosby's recording hit the charts on October 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on October 31, where it stayed for 11 weeks. A holiday perennial, the song was repeatedly re-released by Decca, charting another 16 times. It topped the charts again in 1945, and for a third time in January 1947. The song remains the best-selling single of all time. According to Guinness World Records, Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" has "sold over 100 million copies around the world, with at least 50 million sales as singles."
Crosby's recording was so popular that he was obliged to re-record it in 1947 using the same musicians and backup singers; the original 1942 master had become damaged due to its frequent use in pressing additional singles. Though the two versions are very similar, it is the 1947 recording which is most familiar today.
Crosby's was among the most popular and successful musical acts of the 20th century. Although Billboard Magazine operated under different methodologies for the bulk of Crosby's career, his chart numbers remain astonishing: 383 chart singles, including 41 #1 hits. Crosby had separate charting singles in every calendar year between 1931 and 1954; the annual re-release of “White Christmas” extended that streak to 1957. He had 24 separate popular singles in 1939 alone. Billboard's statistician Joel Whitburn determined Crosby to be America's most successful recording act of the 1930s, and again in the 1940s.
Crosby exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. In 1947 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.
For 15 years (1934, 1937, 1940, 1943–1954), Crosby was among the top 10 in box office drawing power, and for five of those years (1944–1948) he was tops in the world. He sang four Academy Award-winning songs – "Sweet Leilani" (1937), "White Christmas" (1942), "Swinging on a Star" (1944), "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (1951) – and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Going My Way” (1944).
He collected 23 gold and platinum records, according to the book "Million Selling Records." The Recording Industry Association of America did not institute its gold record certification program until 1958, by which point Crosby's record sales were barely a blip; prior to that point, gold records are awarded by an artist's own record company. Universal Music, current owner of Crosby's Decca catalog, has never requested RIAA certification for any of his hit singles.
In 1962, Crosby was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been inducted into the halls of fame for both radio and popular music. In 2007 Crosby was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame, and in 2008 into the Western Music Hall of Fame.