Tony Bennett once called Bing Crosby "the forgotten man" of
American music. Now one award-winning jazz critic is making sure
that doesn't happen.
In his new biography "Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams - The
Early Years, 1903-1940" (Little, Brown, & Co.), Gary Giddins
addresses why Crosby deserves a second listen.
"He's one of the great singers and entertainers of the past
century and has been largely forgotten," says Giddins, whose
decision to spread Bing's story into two spacious volumes has been
questioned by some critics as perhaps more ink than the crooner
"He was a musical innovator who helped to create and embody the
American style in music and attitude," Giddins replies, and "his
career offers me a way to trace the rise of popular culture and the
technocracy, as Bing is central to the development of records,
radio, movies, and the microphone."
"Yes, it will sustain two volumes easily; I'm first approaching
the most exciting years of his career as a singer, film star, and
as the man who singlehandedly remade radio into a prerecorded or
Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby (1903-1977) was one of the most
successful pop singers of the 20th century. Born in Tacoma, Wash.,
he got his start with a bandleader Al Rinker, brother of the great
jazz vocalist Mildred Bailey, and he sang in Paul Whiteman's famous
jazz orchestra as a member of the Rhythm Boys. A series of hits led
him to Hollywood and eventually to record Irving Berlin's "White
Christmas," which sold more than 30 million copies.
But Crosby was somewhat disparaged in later years, perhaps
because his own easy self-mockery allowed such nicknames as "The
Old Groaner" and "Der Bingle."
Giddins is esteemed for his fine illustrated biography of Louis
Armstrong, "Satchmo" (Da Capo). His frank and clear-eyed take on
jazz history made him an important participant in the recent public
TV series "Jazz," filmed by Ken Burns.
How is Crosby treated by Burns? "Crosby isn't mentioned at all,
additional evidence that he has been neglected," Giddins notes.
"[But] the treatment of Armstrong is brilliant - more people will
get a sense of his greatness from this film than from all the
writings by me and other jazz critics combined."
In order to take Crosby seriously as a jazz artist, must we block
out "White Christmas" and the rest of his pop crooning?
"No, no, no, no, no," Giddins exclaims. "It's all part of the
same man. 'White Christmas' is a wonderful record - he employs his
perfect timing and diction to make the lyrics come alive; he gives
them a meaning far beyond their surface sentiment, which is why it
had so powerful an impact on American life here and overseas during
the war and after. …