Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby was an American singer and actor whose career lasted from 1926 until his death in 1977. He was one of the most successful performing artists of the 20th century. Arguably the first true multi-media star, Bing Crosby's influence on popular culture and popular music is enormous -- from 1934 to 1954 he held a nearly unrivaled command of record sales, radio ratings and motion picture grosses. He was usually considered to be a member of popular music's "holy trinity" of ultra-icons, alongside Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Bing Crosby popularized singing with conversational ease, or crooning. His musical interpretations amalgamated rhythm and romance with scat singing, whistling, rhythmic improvisation and melodic paraphrasing as elements of a hotter, sexier sound than had been conceived before. Crosby is also credited as being the major inspiration for most of the male singers that followed him, including the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin. Tony Bennett summed up Crosby's impact, stating, "Bing created a culture. He contributed more to popular music than any other person - he molded popular music. Every singer in the business has taken something from Crosby. Every male singer has a Bing Crosby idiosyncrasy." Crosby also exerted a massive influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. In 1947 he invested US$50,000 in the Ampex company, which developed the world's first commercial reel-to-reel tape recorder, and Crosby became the first performer in the world 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 multi-track recording. He was, along with Frank Sinatra, one of the principal backers behind the famous United Western Recorders studio complex in Los Angeles. In 1962, Crosby was the first person to receive the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Harry Lillis Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington on May 3, 1903 in a house that his father built (1112 North J Street, Tacoma, Washington). His family later moved to Spokane, Washington in 1906 to find work. He was the fourth of seven children - five boys Larry (1895-1975), Everett (born 1896), Ted (born 1900) and Bob (1913-1993) and two girls Catherine (born 1905) and Mary Rose (born 1907) - born to English-American Harry Lowe Crosby (1871-1950), a bookkeeper and Irish-American Catherine Harrigan (1873-1964), (affectionately known as Kate), the daughter of a builder from County Mayo in Ireland. His paternal ancestors Thomas Prence and Patience Brewster were born in England and immigrated to the U.S. in the 17th century; Brewster's family came over on the Mayflower. It should be noted that Bing Crosby had no birth certificate and that his birth date was shrouded in mystery until his childhood Roman Catholic church in Tacoma, Washington, released the baptismal records that revealed his date of birth. In 1910 Crosby was forever renamed. The six-year-old Harry Lillis discovered a full page feature in the Sunday edition of Spokesman-Review, "The Bingville Bugle." The "Bugle", written by humorist Newton Newkirk, was a parody of a hillbilly newsletter complete with gossipy tidbits, minstrel quips, creative spelling and mock ads. A neighbor, 15-year-old Valentine Hobart, shared Crosby's enthusiasm for the "bugle," and noting Crosby's laugh, took a likening to him and called him Bingo from Bingville. The last vowel was dropped and the name shortened to Bing, which stuck. In 1917 Crosby took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium" where he witnessed some of the finest acts of the day, including a blackface performer named Al Jolson who spellbound Crosby with his ad-libbing and spoofs of Hawaiian songs that brought down the house. Crosby would later say that, "To me, he was the greatest entertainer who ever lived." Bing enrolled in the Jesuit-run Gonzaga College in Spokane, Washington in the fall of 1920 with the intent to become a lawyer. He maintained a B+ average. While in Gonzaga he sent away for a set of mail order drums. After much practice he soon became good enough and was invited to join a local band which was made up of mostly local high school kids called the "Musicaladers", managed by one Al Rinker. He made so much money doing this he decided to drop out of school during his final year, to pursue a career in show business. Music In 1926, Crosby and his vocal duo partner Al Rinker caught the eye of Paul Whiteman, arguably the most famous bandleader at the time, while singing at Los Angeles Metropolitan Theatre. Hired for $150 a week, they made their debut on December 6, 1926 at the Tivoli Theatre in Chicago. Their first recording, "I've Got The Girl", issued by Columbia, did them no vocal favors as it sounded like they were singing in a key much too high for them. It was later revealed that the 78rpm was recorded at a speed faster than it should have been. As popular as the Crosby and Rinker duo was Whiteman added another member to the group, pianist and aspiring songwriter Harry Barris. As a result Whiteman dubbed them the Rhythm Boys and they joined the Whiteman vocal team, working and recording with Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and Eddie Lang and singers Mildred Bailey and Hoagy Carmichael. Crosby soon became the star attraction of the Rhythm Boys not to mention Whiteman's Band and in 1928 had his first Number one hit, a jazz influenced rendition of "Ol' Man River". However, his repeated youthful peccadilloes and growing dissatisfaction with Whiteman forced him to leave the band along with the Rhythm Boys and join the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. After signing with Brunswick and recording under Jack Kapp the Rhythm Boys were increasingly pushed to the background with the vocal emphasis on Bing, fellow Rhythm Boys Harry Barris did write most of Crosby’s subsequent hits including "At Your Command", "I Surrender Dear" and "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" However, shortly after this the members of the band had a falling out and split, setting the stage for Crosby's solo career. As the 1930's unfolded it became clear that Bing was the number one man, vocally speaking. Ten of the top 50 songs for 1931 either featured Bing solo or with others. Apart from the short-lived "Battle of the Baritones" with Russ Columbo "Bing Was King" signing long term deals with Jack Kapp's new record company Decca and starring in his first full-length features, 1932's the Big Broadcast, the first of 55 such films of which he was top billed, he appeared in a total of 79 Pictures. Around this time Bing made his solo debut on Radio, co-starring with The Carl Fenton Orchestra on a popular CBS radio show and by 1936, replaced his former boss, Paul Whiteman, as the host of NBC's Kraft Music Hall, a weekly radio program where he would remain for the next ten years. He was thus able to take popular singing beyond the kind of "belting" associated with a performer like Al Jolson, who had to reach the back seats in New York theatres without the aid of the microphone. With Crosby, as Henry Pleasants noted in The Great American Popular Singers, something new had entered American music, something that might be called "singing in American," with conversational ease. The oddity of this new sound led to the epithet "crooner". Crosby gave great emphasis to live appearances before American troops fighting in the European Theater. He also learned how to pronounce German from written scripts, and would read them in propaganda broadcasts intended for the German forces. The nickname "der Bingle" for him was understood to have become current among German listeners, and came to be used by his English-speaking fans. In a poll of U.S. troops at the close of WWII, Crosby topped the list as the person who did the most for G.I. morale (beating out President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower and one Leslie Townes, better known as "Bob Hope".) and in 1948 he was voted the most admired person alive, ahead of Frank Sinatra, Jackie Robinson and The Pope [Philadelphia Courier, Nov 22, 1947.] Crosby's biggest musical hit was his recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", which he introduced through a 1941 Christmas-season radio broadcast and the movie Holiday Inn. Bing's recording hit the charts on Oct. 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on Oct. 31, where it stayed for 11 weeks. In the following years Bing's recording hit the top-30 pop charts another 16 times, even topping the charts again in 1945 and January of '47. The song remains Bing's best-selling recording, and the best-selling Christmas single and second best selling song of all time . In 1998 after a long absence, his 1947 version hit the charts in Britain, and as of 2006 remains the North American holiday-season standard. According to Guinness World Records, Bing Crosby's White Christmas has "sold over 100 million copies around the world, with at least 50 million sales as singles Motion pictures According to ticket sales Bing Crosby is, at 1,077,900,000 tickets sold, the third most popular actor of all-time behind Clark Gable and John Wayne. Crosby is also, according to Quigley Publishing Company's International Motion Picture Almanac, tied for second on the "All Time Number One Stars List" with three other actors - Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks and Burt Reynolds. Crosby's most popular film, White Christmas, grossed $30 Million in 1954, which adjusted for inflation to 2004 dollars is $233 million. Crosby also won an Academy Award as Best Actor for Going My Way in 1944 and was critically acclaimed for his performance as an alcoholic entertainer in The Country Girl. By the late 1950s, Crosby's popularity had peaked, and the adolescence of the baby boom generation began to affect record sales to younger customers. In 1960, Crosby starred in High Time, a collegiate comedy with Fabian and Tuesday Weld that foretold the emerging gap between older Crosby fans and a new generation of films and music. Style Bing Crosby perfected an idea that Al Jolson had hinted at, namely that the popular performer didn't have to limit himself to a mere series of shticks but could be a genuine artist - in this case, a musician. Before Crosby, art was art and pop was pop; Opera singers worried about staying in tune and reaching the upper balcony, Vaudevillians concerned themselves with their costumes and facial expressions. Crosby rendered the difference between the two irrelevant. Where earlier recording artists had displayed strictly one-dimensional attitudes, Crosby not only perfected the fully rounded persona, but brought with it the technical wherewithal of a true concert artist. Crosby projected with a majestic sense of intonation that afforded Tin Pan Alley the musical stature of European classics and a jazz influenced time that made him both the dominant voice of both the Jazz age and the Swing era. Crosby also elaborated on a further idea of Al Jolson's, one that Frank Sinatra would ultimately extend further: phrasing, or more specifically, the art of making a song's lyric ring true. "I used to tell (Sinatra) over and over," said Tommy Dorsey, "there's only one singer you ought to listen to and his name is Crosby. All that matters to him is the words, and that's the only thing that ought to for you too." The greatest trick of Crosby’s virtuosity was covering it up. It is often said that Crosby made his singing and acting "look easy," or as if it was no work at all: he simply was the character he portrayed, and his singing, being a direct extension of conversation, came just as naturally to him as talking, or even breathing, or so it seemed. Crosby was indeed a conscious artist, but excelled more at covering it up. Career statistics Bing Crosby has sales statistics that would place him among the most popular and successful musical acts of the 20th century, and would also suggest that Bing Crosby played a central role in American cultural and musical history: 1,700 recordings, 383 of those in the top 30, and of those, 41 hit No. 1. For 15 years (1934, 1937, 1940, 1943-1954) he was among the top 10 in box office draw, and for five of those years (1944-49) he was the largest 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 an acting Oscar for Going My Way (1944). He also collected 23 gold and platinum records in his career. It should be noted that Gold and platinum records did not come into existence until 1958, after which Crosby was considered retired. In 1962 Crosby became the first recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a list that now contains a plethora of musical legends. He has been inducted into the respective halls of fame for both radio and popular music. His music sales are estimated at between 500,000,000 (five hundred million) to 900,000,000 (nine hundred million). Bing is a member of that exclusive club of the biggest record sellers that include Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Personal life Crosby was married twice, first to actress/nightclub singer Dixie Lee from 1930 until her death from ovarian cancer in 1952. They had four sons (Gary, Dennis, Phillip and Lindsay). Dixie was an alcoholic, and the 1947 film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is indirectly based on her life. After Dixie's death, Bing married the much-younger actress Kathryn Grant in 1957 and they had three children together, Harry, Mary (best known for portraying Kristin Shepherd, the woman who shot J.R. Ewing on Dallas) and Nathaniel. In 1978, he and Bob Hope were voted the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. on October 14, 1977, Bing Crosby died instantly when he suffered a massive heart attack after a round of eighteen holes of golf in Madrid, Spain. He was 74 years old. His last words were reported as, "That was a great game of golf fellas." However, according to his companions and recorded by biographer Gary Giddens, Crosby then said, "Let's go get a Coke." Due to incorrect instructions from his family, the year of birth engraved on Bing Crosby's tombstone is 1904, rather than the correct date of 1903. After Bing's death, his image as an ideal father (fostered in part by his family's participation on his famous holiday television specials) was nearly destroyed when his eldest son, Gary, wrote a highly critical memoir (Going My Own Way) depicting Bing as cold, remote, and both physically and psychologically abusive. His son Phillip frequently disputed his brother Gary's claims about their father. In an interview conducted in 1999 by the Globe, Phillip is quoted as saying, "My dad was not the monster my lying brother said he was, He was strict, but my father never beat us black and blue and my brother Gary was a vicious, no-good liar for saying so. I have nothing but fond memories of dad, going to studios with him, family vacations at our cabin in Idaho, boating and fishing with him. To my dying day, I'll hate Gary for dragging dad's name through the mud. He wrote Going My Own Way out of greed. He wanted to make money and knew that humiliating our father and blackening his name was the only way he could do it. He knew it would generate a lot of publicity. That was the only way he could get his ugly, no-talent face on television and in the newspapers. My dad was my hero. I loved him very much. He loved all of us too, including Gary. He was a great father." Phillip died in 2004; the media reported the causes as "natural" or "unspecified" because the coroner declined to release specific details. Crosby reportedly overindulged in alcohol in his youth, and may have been dismissed from Paul Whiteman's orchestra because of it. He later got a handle on his drinking, but his first wife Dixie Lee was an alcoholic. A 2001 biography of Crosby by Village Voice jazz critic Gary Giddins says that Louis Armstrong's influence on Bing "extended to his love of marijuana." Bing smoked it during his early career when it was legal and "surprised interviewers" in the 1960s and 70s by advocating its decriminalization, as did Armstrong. According to Giddins, Bing told his son Gary to stay away from alcohol ("It killed your mother") and suggested he smoke pot instead. Gary said, "There were other times when marijuana was mentioned and he'd get a smile on his face." Gary thought his father's pot smoking had influenced his easy-going style in his films. Two of Bing's children, Lindsay and Dennis, committed suicide. It was widely published at the time of Lindsay's December 11, 1989 death that he ended his life the day after watching his father sing "White Christmas" on television. Dennis ended his life two years later, grieving over his brother's death, and battered, just as his brother had been, by alcoholism, failed relationships, and lackluster career. Both brothers were subsisting on small allowances from their father's trust fund; both died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. Denise Crosby, Dennis' daughter, is also an actress and best known for her role as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nathaniel Crosby, Bing's youngest son from his second marriage, was a high-level golfer who won the U.S. Amateur at age 19 in 1981, becoming the youngest-ever winner of that event (a record later broken by Tiger Woods). At his death, Bing was worth over $150 million USD due to his shrewd investments in oil, real estate, and other commodities, making him one of Hollywood's then wealthiest residents along with Fred MacMurray and best friend Bob Hope. He left a clause in his will stating that his sons from his first marriage could not collect their inheritance money until they were in their 80s. Bing felt that they had already been amply taken care of by a trust fund set up by their mother, Dixie Lee. All four sons continued to collect monies from that fund until their deaths. However, none lived long enough to collect any of their inheritance from their father.