Transcript:

Speaker One of the interesting things about Crosby recording of Brother Can You Spare a Dime is that he doesn't sing it straight. When the song was heard on Broadway, it was once I built a railroad, made it run immediately. Bing makes it his own and does this groundbreaking phrasing his brother. Can you spare a dime?

Speaker Nobody else would have done that. Nobody else would have been able to phrase it that way. Nobody would have thought of interpreting this song that way because he was already a good decade and a half in his singing style ahead of what everybody else was doing. You listen to Rudy Vallee. Rudy Valli is very straight, kind of stentorian. And then there's Jolson, who's the vaudevillian, who's over the top. What? Our brother. Can you spare a dime? Not sugar. I mean, Bing had this controlled emotion that is much more authentic than either the Bing had a controlled emotion that is much more authentic than either of the other interpretations.

Speaker Tells me why he's important and influential in American.

Speaker It is not an understatement to say that Bing Crosby changed the face of American popular singing. Some people credit Louis Armstrong, but I don't because Crosby was, among many other things, a great interpreter of lyrics. He always understood exactly what he was singing and had a very fresh and immediate point of view when he performed a song. He also had a modern style of crooning because he started singing with the invention of the microphone, which meant that what?

Speaker Sorry, Crosby, where should I go back to?

Speaker OK, you know, want to wish that he had a modern way of singing because of the invention of the microphone, which essentially started in recording in 1925, and therefore it was possible to sing intimately. Your voice did not need to be sung like this because the microphone captured the intimacy of the voice. So Crosby was one of the first modern entertainers to sing in an intimate conversational style. His overall tone was affected by the technology of his time, and he also had this extraordinary musicality. He had this natural instinct. I don't know where it came from, but he knew how to harmonize. He knew how to back phrases. He knew how to play with a melody. But it was in a way that always felt so organic. Also, Crosby was a great scat singer. He could sing scat along with the best of them. Now, Frank Sinatra, if you ever see Frank Sinatra scat, it's laughable. That's one of the things that Sinatra couldn't do. But with Crosby, it's absolutely in his bones.

Speaker So I think for most people, when they hear that Crosby is described as a jazz singer, at least the early part of his career, I think it's hard for people to wrap their heads around what makes him a jazz singer as far as jazz standards are known today.

Speaker Could you explain what jazz.

Speaker Jazz singing, singing jazz means that you don't sing on the beat a piece of music, there is a somebody I'm long and let me do something to be a Crosby song. Jazz singing jazz is jazz singing is where you don't sing on the beat, it's where you take variations on what is written in the music. It's about phrasing, but it's also about seeing how far you can go playing with the melody, but somehow staying within the confines of the song.

Speaker Let's take a song like Moonlight Becomes You. The way the sheet music is written, moonlight becomes you.

Speaker It goes with your hair. Bing would sing it. Moonlight becomes you, it goes with your heart. You certainly know the right thing to wear. It becomes conversational. But he also changes the notes. Moonlight becomes you. It goes with your hair instead of it goes with you. It goes with your hair. He would change the melody and songwriters never complained about the way the Bing would change the melody because in some cases it really made the song seem better.

Speaker I'm fascinated by Bing Crosby's persona because there are several different people that make up Bing Crosby. He has one image on screen, on television as being this very paternal figure and very warm and embracing in a certain way. Yet some people who worked with him, who liked him very much, like Jay Livingston, who was Levingston Evans wrote a lot of songs he sang at Paramount, said that when they would play a song for Bing if he didn't like it, he said those cold blue eyes would stare at you. And when he liked the song, he would say, That's fine, and he'd leave.

Speaker And that was high praise from Bing. So he was very understated. But the point is that he kept his emotions in check. He felt very, very deeply. But he didn't like people fawning over him. His butler, Alan Fisher, worked for Bing for many years because Alan didn't like being singing, so he was the guy for Bing. Bing didn't have to worry about this guy fawning over him. And Rosemary Clooney would talk about how with Bing you had to have this kind of, hey, how you doing, pal? Kind of thing. You couldn't get into the legend or the image because he would have none of that. I think that.

Speaker The complexity of Bing Crosby is one of the things that makes him very, very interesting, and he sublimated that complexity at times to give off this image of call me lucky. I just I'm a singer. I'm not a very special singer, all the stuff, but the intelligence and the way he calculated so much of his career behind all of that is what makes him fascinating.

Speaker You've I'm sure you've heard this. If you could tell us he did not particularly want to sing the words I love you in the song.

Speaker Did he want a bank's favorite lyricist was Johnny Burke. He called Johnny Burke the Irish poet. And Johnny worked with and for Bing for many, many years. And the thing that being loved about Johnny Burke is that Johnny Burke would write a song that was a love song that did not say I love you, even in Moonlight Becomes You. It's if I say I love you, I want you to know that's very different from saying I love you. So Johnny came up with dozens and dozens of songs that expressed love in an off the mark way. You can just go down the list of those songs. One of my favorites is But Beautiful.

Speaker Right. So let's just jump right into what this was and what it means and what if, what it meant, what it can do to.

Speaker Obviously, I'm going to show you the.

Speaker OK, yes, but talk to us about that and the phenomenon that it became.

Speaker And don't talk to me about that first class. All right, I have a playback.

Speaker You have I have a playback disc that I think is different from the movie, but I don't know that it's the the legendary course. So something's different about it just so far, OK. He probably has idea.

Speaker Nobody knew that the song what? No one knew the song White Christmas was going to become iconic, not even Irving Berlin, who was a very canny judge of his own work, from what I know, Berlin expected the song, Be Careful, It's My Heart to become.

Speaker Was that is that right? Yeah. Yeah, I'll start again. And you don't even have to mention this. You see, no one knew. OK, ok.

Speaker No one knew it was going to become iconic, Irving Berlin even didn't know in Berlin was a great judge of his own work. He thought that, be careful, it's my heart was going to be the hit in the film from the film. And that's kind of an antique lyric. Be careful. It's my heart. It's not my watch you're holding. It's my heart. It's kind of clumsy in a way, but White Christmas came along at a time in our country's history that nobody could have predicted with the start of the Second World War. And then a resonance is attached to the song that is very, very deep.

Speaker And the way Bing sang it with such depth and connection, people felt in that interpretation more than was there in that the first time he sang it was in the context of.

Speaker This movie, and it became about the loss of our loved ones, about separation, about a certain mythology that we all yearn for but will probably never really have.

Speaker When Crosby left Decca Records in 1956, a long, long association, that was, what, 22 years, he probably decided that he didn't want to be indentured to a single record label because he was a businessman who wanted control over his recorded destiny. And I appreciate that about him. However, if he had been with another label, there's a chance he might have had more recorded hits. One of the miscalculations he made in that period was to do an album with Buddy Bregman called Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings. I say miscalculation in that he shouldn't have worked with Buddy Bregman because Bing was trying to emulate songs for Swinging Lovers. The Sinatra, the iconic Sinatra collaboration with Nelson Riddle and Buddy Bregman was not Nelson Riddle. And this is a bombastic album where the arrangements do not serve Bing.

Speaker And that was his attempt to enter that Sinatra field with that kind of chart. And artistically, it's a misfire. I think the recording sold pretty well. But still, when you listen to that recording, it absolutely doesn't gel. And the sad thing is that if he had done that with Billy May in that moment in 56 or had done it with Nelson, with whom he couldn't work because Nelson was under contract to Capitol or maybe one or two other arrangers, it could have happened for him. There was a way to do it. But for some reason, he didn't seem to have, amazingly, the understanding about what arranger to work with that could get him there. That is shocking to me. It is shocking to me that Bing Crosby, with his extraordinary musical genius and I'm going to get flack for this, but I think that he had more innate genius than Sinatra. Yet when it came to working with the Rangers, he made some very poor choices. Bing was so comfortable in his skin that in some ways it worked against him and that he didn't have this burning need to get the public to love him. And because of that, he didn't sing those songs where it was like the man that got away or my way are those songs. Now, that's not to say that he didn't try to accomplish that later in his career where he had certain songs like That's What Life Is All About, that tried to capture that. But they are missing a certain kind of drama that you don't feel like Bing has really suffered or gone through it to get where he's gotten. And he did suffer. He did go through a lot of things, but nobody ever saw it because that was his private business. He didn't want people to see that. And yet to really successfully sing a song like that, you got to show that.

Speaker So I have a letter from him. By the mid 50s, he's really pragmatic about his own recording career and he says maybe he's writing O'Melveny or.

Speaker I'm not getting any. I haven't. No. Once in a while, I noticed a change.

Speaker I think it's not for lack of trying, but I think we have to address that. It was an extraordinary run.

Speaker You know, he had 20 million sellers, right? I do. Right, Robert. Have three little white prisons.

Speaker That's all right. Yeah. OK.

Speaker Crosby had 20 million selling records, the last one being true love from High Society, which was a total accident because Cole Porter thought your sensational would be the hit record for Sinatra. And suddenly this duet with Grace Kelly becomes an unexpected hit. And it gave Bing his 20th gold record. Bing was not happy. Bing was not happy about the fact that he was no longer creating hit records. Mazzini, Henry Mancini's wife, told a story about working with being on a television show, and Hank Mancini had just given an interview in which he said, Well, you know, traditional singers don't sell records anymore. And Bing Crosby doesn't sell records. Well, being was furious, and he called Jimmy into his dressing room and he said, Hank said this. And how could he say that about me?

Speaker He really caracter she thought she was going to be fired because he was very upset that Mancini publicly said that he was very upset that sorry, he was very upset that Hank Mancini publicly said that Bing Crosby doesn't sell records and he was red.

Speaker I don't think people understand now that. And we should say it is really the first multimedia star of the 20th century, right?

Speaker Yeah, I just want to say one other thing about before I get out of your mind.

Speaker Even the biggest jazz singer, I think his favorite kind of music is Dixieland.

Speaker If I do, I say this.

Speaker One of the things we're doing is absolutely at the top of the market in his element, regardless of the era, are his Dixieland recordings being with a beat down in the mid 50s, his album, a Southern memoir done with Paul Smith in 1975. He was a great Dixieland singer. He didn't do the kind of contemporary jazz that Sinatra was doing, but it was a different kind of a jazz singing and it was of a certain era. But that, I think, was Bing's favorite kind of singing the.

Speaker So speaking of that, linking up to that, Jack Kemp, we should briefly talk about that and tell us who that was, but also the fact that Jack Kemp, as Gary Gibbons homogenized, having him saying that his recording career in Jakob's hand and in turn Jack Kemp made him available to every type of music.

Speaker There's this whole theory that if Boeing had continued to sing jazz, as he did in the early 30s, he would not have become a big star. I don't know if that's true. He worked with Eddie Lang, this amazing jazz guitarist who died tragically of an accident and being blamed himself. It was an operation that went bad. And Eddie Lang was Bing's musical director, and Eddie was pushing Bing further and further into jazz. And when Eddie Lang died, that happened around the same time that Bing started recording for Decca and Jack Kapp, who started Decca Records and wanted Bing to become the voice for every man. He wanted Bing to sing every kind of song, Christmas songs, Irish songs, Italian songs, folk songs, opera of Victor Herbert, patriotic, and he wanted to make him every man. And Jack Kemp felt that if Crosby continued to sing jazz, that could never happen, and he'd methodically set out to homogenize Bing style. And so as Bing gains more and more fame, his style of singing becomes less and less jazzy and more homogenized in a way that made him iconic and a household name. But musically, in some ways, less interesting.

Speaker There was a heavy price to pay for Crosby singing MGM can go screw, he didn't work at MGM for 20 years. That was in some ways tragic because the musical films that MGM made not only were extraordinary and the best in Hollywood, but it meant he didn't work with Arthur Freed and he didn't work with Judy Garland, which is one of the great tragedies, because when you hear them on those radio broadcasts, they are fantastic together.

Speaker He adores Judy Garland. She adores him. She feels safe with him. She trusts him. And vocally, they are spectacular together.

Speaker The as long as we're on this.

Speaker Somebody this thing about when she gets fired from MGM. He's been virtually unemployed. All right.

Speaker In spite of people, in spite of Krosby, perceived as being sometimes a cold guy, he was deeply, deeply faithful to the people he cared about, and he did pay hospital bills and took care of people without they or their families knowing about it.

Speaker Mildred Bailey paid hospital bills, but with Garland, he felt a very special affection, I think, because he saw her from the beginning and he saw what she had gone through and how her life had evolved and he saw the tragedy of it. And when she was fired from MGM, he rallied by her side when very few others would, he had her on his radio program and she was sick. She had tried to kill herself. She tried to cut her wrists. She tried to kill herself. She cut her wrists. And she didn't even want to be seen in public because she felt so humiliated at how people were looking at her, thinking of her. And then here is Bing, who brings her to the radio show. Then she has a meltdown in the dressing room because she's terrified of going out in front of people. And he goes out and he talks to the audience and says, look, I have a friend here who is our guest and I just want you to.

Speaker Give her a nice hand and give her a lot of support because she's our friend. Just like that, the.

Speaker Would you call the rhythm boys with the first popular boy band?

Speaker The rhythm boys are certainly unique in history. There was no vocal group that compared to the rhythm boys again, they had this jazz thing going. They were listening to black music. They had something that converted jazz into pop music. And people went crazy for these guys. They were superstars of their time. These were guys who these were guys who were in the Weitman band and they became such stars that they almost eclipsed Paul Whiteman. And Whiteman didn't know how to contain these guys because they were madcap and crazy and they were doing stuff that was very much on the edge.

Speaker But there was nobody like.

Speaker So let's talk about his relationship and influence, influence by Louis Armstrong.

Speaker Crosby had big ears, he was listening to all kinds of music, and he was very influenced by jazz. Well, that's because Crosby Crosby had big ears. He listened to all kinds of music, particularly the jazz of that time, the way the jazz was starting to insinuate itself into pop music. And there was this great divide in music, jazz music. They were often race records that were not for a white audience. And then here comes Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington making records that are crossover, that are becoming popular records. And Crosby absolutely is captivated by the style, the phrasing, the ethos of Louis Armstrong. And he wants to work with Louis Armstrong. He also made a record with Duke Ellington in 1932 and works with the Mills Brothers. You know, Crosby doesn't care about color. He just cares about talent. And that was the greatest talent. So in 1936, he's making pennies from heaven and he wants Louis Armstrong in the movie. And, of course, that the execs, they don't want Louis Armstrong in a film because he's a black guy. And Crosby says if he's not in the movie, there's no movie. I mean, he absolutely fought for Louis Armstrong because it was the right thing to do.

Speaker And the Mills Brothers two on the radio, right? Yes, having the most positions. You should tell us that to.

Speaker Crosby recorded with the Mills Brothers in 1932, they did some fantastic records together and there was resistance to having them on his radio show because they were black. And again, it was being saying it's the Mills brothers are nothing. So they were they were on the show.

Speaker Senator comes along for days. No, he's not. He hasn't had any real challenge. Sandweiss. So does doesn't challenge we don't really the early 60s, but the press, everything from Swaniker under the Warner Brothers project.

Speaker I mean, everybody's jumping on this. You know, supposed rivalry isn't really a rivalry. It's never so not the credits, we should say it's not right to be with his you know, his career in a way. But there's a whole lineage.

Speaker That's where you get the front door. What does that Saturday? So, yes, the old a lot of new charts, actually, old chart, classical charts that have revived and found.

Speaker Attorney James.

Speaker That's the next concern in August. But yes.

Speaker There's a lineage in popular music in that Crosby was deeply affected by Al Jolson. Frank Sinatra was affected by Bing Crosby. Sinatra idolized Crosby in the early days, and yet Sinatra eventually came to eclipse Bing Crosby in popularity. Crosby famously said at one point, an entertainer like Frank Sinatra comes along once in a lifetime. Why did he have to come along in my lifetime? What else did you want me to say?

Speaker You're saying that we should say that the rivalry oh, the rivalry was made up then then anything, that they had a great deal of respect for each other that.

Speaker Yeah, I mean, I think I think it was a failure in my career.

Speaker Sinatra always acknowledged Bing as being the architect of his career in certain ways, said he was the father of his career. And in the 40s, when Sinatra really burst upon the scene, first as a band singer, then as a soloist, the press is creating all this rivalry between the two guys, and there was no rivalry. Crosby was so secure with who he was. I mean, in the mid 40s, he was the most famous entertainer in the world. Movies, radio records. I mean, he was it. And Sinatra. Even though Sinatra had tremendous fame, Crosby had already seen a lot of guys come and go. And when they appeared together on radio programs that when they appeared together on radio programs, they would joke about this whole rivalry. But in truth, there was no rivalry.

Speaker So speaking of duets. He's so secure. You listen to some of these duets with Connie Botswanans. Oh, he's just humming along in the back and he's so secure so that I don't think it's.

Speaker It's so secure and happy to be with I think we should say, happy to be with another performer that he's enamored of, that he will take it gladly.

Speaker Take the back seat.

Speaker One of the one of the fascinating things is listening sometimes to sessions of Crosby recordings when, you know, the released recording, listening to how he takes variations and every single take, he is so free in a way that is death defying because there's no editing. And especially when he's doing duets, he sings around the other person. He hums, he throws in asides. And sometimes the the the other singer is totally thrown off. Like We're with Joelson. There's a record where Jolson laughs and he can't quite recover. Crosby had no fear. When he's making these records, he could put out a phrase and say something and he immediately gets back into the beat of the record. It is sensational. I've never heard anybody do that. And he seems to be at his happiest when he is dueting with someone. When he's sharing the microphone and he steps back, he lets this person step out. He is aware of the end result. He doesn't care about it being a Crosby record. He just wants it to be good.

Speaker I don't think the most of the audience will realize that when we talk about the amount of records he was putting out there, we're not talking about long, you know, 12 tracks we're talking about in the B side. Right. Until what is right.

Speaker Well, singles were still and besides, I mean, he was still issuing singles through the 50s.

Speaker I mean, he so in a typical year, he's just doing what he.

Speaker So I think it's important because we say he is always right, even in my opinion. You always think it's an album, right. Right. OK, yeah. Yeah, yeah. We're.

Speaker When Crosby was at his heyday, single records were released, it was two sides of a record. There was an east side and a B side.

Speaker And so these were records that were sent out and there would be another one that would come out every couple of weeks, every couple of weeks, there would be a new Bing Crosby record. And there were so many of these records that were on the charts. It was unbelievable. He was incredibly prolific. So he made all of these single recordings. He didn't start recording albums or collections of songs until the 1950s when technology changed to enable people to purchase something that was a real LP album. But Crosby was in some ways at his best, making single records. He didn't do as well with concept records as others were doing at that time. He sort of caught up later, but at the beginning he was a guy who sang single songs. It wasn't about the overall journey of an LP. To put in perspective the enormity of Bing's career, his recorded career, he made 600 singles, that's 100 songs, 1200 sites. That's an enormous amount of material that doesn't count all the stuff he did later in the latter part of his career. He started doing albums and then the compilations made from other radio shows. So he makes these 12 sites. At the same time, he is doing a weekly radio show, plus making films and doing personal appearances. It's unbelievable to fathom the enormity of what he accomplished and the fact that he did it all so well.

Speaker Robert, you want to specify the white stuff that that's just his solo records.

Speaker Yeah, throw away because you're a guy.

Speaker Before Crosby became a solo recording artist, he had all these hundreds of sites that he made with dance bands, with Paul Whiteman and with the Rhythm Boys. So there's this whole recorded legacy that predates his solo career. It's it's massive. It is absolutely massive. It is impossible, I think, to listen to all of his recordings, to listen to everything that he recorded, radio records, movies. It would be impossible to listen to all of it in a single lifetime.

Speaker But, yeah, it's great to hear the sound bite of.

Speaker And now, just again, putting in perspective how big the radio show was, how big that audience was today, if a television shows a hit, it's turning off, a television show is a big hit.

Speaker You get six million viewers. Judge Judy gets 10 million. What we say just you're not make it today.

Speaker If it shows a hit show you have a network television show is a hit. You get about six million viewers. That is considered a spectacular success. Bing Crosby had 50 million people listening to his show weekly, 50 million people. He was the most familiar and beloved voice in the world. He was known everywhere. It's it's incredible what he accomplished.

Speaker So this is a quote that he used his voice more intelligently than other singers. How how do you define.

Speaker He understood what his voice could do. He understood about cadence, about sound, about modulation of sound. His early records sound like they're in a higher range and some of them are. But the timbre of his voice became deeper. And when he spoke, he came to recognize that there was a certain kind of lilt and a certain kind of deeper sound and emphasis he could put on his voice when he said certain things. That was absolutely brilliant. Should I say that again, that there was a little that was that wasn't really well stated.

Speaker I don't believe over. Well, I didn't believe a word.

Speaker Crosby understood his instrument very, very well, I'm not talking just about the singing, but the modulation of his voice when he spoke, he did lots of spoken word recordings. And when on his radio show he was engaged in dialogue with a guest, he would modulate his voice up and down in a way that was almost like music. It was very, very canny and absolutely brilliant.

Speaker It's perfect. Also, just another thing we should know, because, again, it. Shows his popularity sweetly aligning, it sells 54 million units of sheet music in the middle of a depression.

Speaker And who wins the Oscar? Oh, yeah.

Speaker 1937, Chrysler makes a movie called Wacky Wedding Features, a song by Harry Owens called Sweet Lelani Song is an incredible hit, not a great song, but the way Bing sang it, spectacular success, nominated for an Academy Award opposite the Gershwin song. They can't take that away from me. George Gershwin dies of a brain tumor and everyone thinks that they can't take that away from me is going to win the Academy Award. Well, the announcement is made and it's Harry Owens for Sweet Lelani and people are aghast. But the popularity was such that it was the Crosby record that made it win the Oscar, not the quality of the song.

Speaker It was fifty four million. Oh, should I say that again and put it in?

Speaker Sweet Lelani, sweet lalani, the sheet music alone sold 54 million copies.

Speaker OK, Ampex. Best of luck because they're not.

Speaker Right, right.

Speaker We think of the big thing about ethics, I think to understand is that it changed, right? The interview and the first person to make a commercial recording on tape. Right. So no Merv Griffin.

Speaker Oh, just if I wasn't in the dog walker. Well, he was a dog lover, so.

Speaker How do I start recording technology changed dramatically in 1946 after the Second World War. Tape recorders are discovered throughout.

Speaker Recording recording technology changed dramatically in 1946 after the Second World War, when the allies bring tape recorders back from Germany. What that means is that no longer do recordings have to stop after three or four minutes with tape recording, you can record for as long as you want, 15, 20 minutes without a break. And the technical quality was extraordinary. It was high fidelity for the first time and it changed the face of radio because it no longer had to be a live broadcast because tapes sounded exactly like live. It changed the recording industry in that records could be done take after take and it wasn't expensive. And of course, Bing Crosby invests in this technology with Ampex and becomes a multimillionaire because he understands the ramifications of what this means for the recording industry.

Speaker When Rosemary Clooney had a nervous breakdown in the late 1960s, she was so ill that most people never thought she would ever return from the institution where she was sent being wrote her a letter and expressed his concern for her. And then she didn't hear from him for a while and she didn't realize that he was in touch with everybody asking about her, but he didn't want to bother her yet. As soon as she was well enough to get out there and sing again, Ben calls her and asks her to do a little show with him. It turns out that the little show is a celebration of his anniversary in show business and it's very high profile. And then he starts taking her on the road with him as he starts touring. And he single handedly gave her her career back in a way that was never expressed. He just did it. And she adored him for doing that.

Speaker And what did she tell you about that? I mean, was completely lame about it.

Speaker Rosemarie knew that she couldn't fawn over being or profusely thank him for what he did for her because he wouldn't have any of it. He knew and she knew. And the point is that he went to great lengths to bring her back because he loved her so deeply. One of the things he loved about Rosemary is that she was a true confidant for him. He recognized her extraordinary intelligence and loved her singing. And he trusted her in a way that he trusted very few people.

Speaker I'm going to throw out a couple of song titles and tell me what these things.

Speaker Don't scream out your mother's name, right?

Speaker Let's just start with we'll show a couple of song and dance and do it with a spirit.

Speaker Irving Berlin was one of the greatest writers of special material, and he tailors the song for being an Fred Astaire called A Couple of song and Dance Men, it's it's a perfect melding of these two personalities. How Berlin was able to encapsulate both of these iconic figures into the song is really wonderful because it's a song with humor and it shows them off in a way that humanizes them. There is a pathos in pennies from heaven that is still so palpable when when you see Bing sing it or hear him sing it. Song was written during the depths of the song as written during the depths of the Depression. The lyrics are by Johnny Burke. Bing has given Arthur Johnston the composer a job because Arthur Johnston is an alcoholic and being wants to help him. And as a result, he gets this extraordinarily popular song that was one of the defining moments of his career.

Speaker Blue skies.

Speaker A perfect example of how Crosby could revitalize and reimage a song is what he did with the song Blue Skies, written in 1926 by Irving Berlin for Bill Baker. Bill Baker was a comedian who always sobbed when she sang.

Speaker So Berlin wrote a song for her persona, Blue Skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see.

Speaker It's a happy song and optimistic song. That's a sad melody.

Speaker Now, when Crosby sings that he has this arrangement that's created in collaboration with Joe Lilly, that has this sort of undercurrent of longing and this desire for something to happen, like waiting for spring that he imbues, it's this sort of mystery that he puts into the rendition that is part of his magic. He makes the song deep in a way that nobody had heard before.

Speaker I'm going to say pocketful of dreams, but then I'm going to ask you a question about that and another song with Pocketful Dreams.

Speaker In the 30s, Crosby sang so many swing in the 1930s for Bing were fantastic because he's doing all these amazing rhythm and swing songs and a song like I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams is a perfect demonstration of that, because Johnny Burke writes this lyric that is bouncy. That's the Irish poet optimism that Bing expects. And the melody is one of those kinds of tunes that fits Bing's voice perfectly. He just bounces all around with it and it just makes you want to yell with excitement.

Speaker But, you know, so this song and some he sings in Morocco, you know, got it done.

Speaker And I know that. And there's another song where he's basically saying, I've got no money, I've got no money.

Speaker So it's kind of strange to me that this performer who in a way doesn't have any secrets from the public. Everyone knows how my family wealthy he is. Bob Hope's teasing him about it.

Speaker People are doing about it.

Speaker And he gets away with singing these songs and people don't even question it. They buy it and they. There's no there's no disconnect.

Speaker You know what it is about being when he sings about poverty you believe in.

Speaker He knows what that's about. He understands the character. He understands the persona. So when he's singing those words, you know, that's real.

Speaker But it's also an amazing testament to his hold over the power.

Speaker Mm hmm. OK, yeah.

Speaker So here's Crosby, who's a multi multi millionaire. It just keeps stockpiling and he's singing these songs about Ain't Got a dime to my name. Ho hum. Haven't Time to Be a Millionaire, all these different songs. It's fascinating because there is, if you will, a disconnect. But it is the force of his persona and the connection with the lyric that makes people buy it in spite of the fact that they know that it ain't necessarily so. 1945, Julie Stein and Sammy Kahn become the court songwriters for Frank Sinatra. Yet Crosby has the big hit with one of their iconic songs. It's been a long, long time, recorded as a duet with Les Paul. Perfect for wartime. Kiss me once, kiss me twice. Kiss, kiss me once, kiss me twice. Kiss me once again.

Speaker It's been a long, long time. It's about the guys coming home.

Speaker And it's a and it's a system you kind of wish he did more of this sort of simple arrangements, right? I mean, yes, the simplicity of it is.

Speaker Really beautiful in the cool, cool, cool of the evening with Jinchuan.

Speaker Jane Wyman always told me Jane Wyman always told me a story about being on the set with Bing when they did call the evening that he was improvising lyrics off the top of his head. I don't know if that's true, but when you watch the clip, it definitely was filmed live. It wasn't done to prerecording. It was live on set. And that's, of course, where Crosby was at his best because he was free and he didn't have to worry about anything. He just sang the song. It's the way it came out. He adored Jane Wyman. They had a certain chemistry together. And the song, which was a leftover from an unproduced show called Keystone Girl, which rejected a project about a silent film star. This song sounds like it was tailor made for Bing.

Speaker The. San Fernando Valley.

Speaker And I guess we should maybe tie that into what he meant to the soldiers and his.

Speaker As much as Betty Grable was the pinup girl for the Second World War, guys and soldiers, Crosby was the voice of Home of America, of comfort, of something safe.

Speaker And after the war, he records a song written by Gordon Jenkins called San Fernando Valley, which is really about all the guys returning home and getting their plot of land and building a home and starting a new life again. Bing was making the perfect record at the perfect moment.

Speaker Accentuate the positive. I want to show the duet with Bette Midler 50 oh yeah.

Speaker And the point here is that. He's still in pretty damn good shape right up until the.

Speaker One of the remarkable things about being is that in the 1960s, he talked about how he was going to stop singing and he said his voice didn't sound so good. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy because on some of his commercial records, they're not so great. But then you look at the TV appearances and they're wonderful. And yet in the 1970s, it's like there's some magic elixir that comes into his voice where he is singing with such authority and depth and musicality that it's fantastic. And he makes the series of recordings that are as good as anybody's recordings. And his appearances on television at the very end with all of these duet partners are fantastic, especially Bette Midler doing Accentuate the Positive.

Speaker Uh. I surrender, dear.

Speaker At the beginning of his solo career, Crosby is singing these.

Speaker At the beginning of a solo career, Crosby is making these records that are establishing his persona and one of those songs that he sang As I Surrender Dear, written by one of the former rhythm boys, Harry Barris. And it's this very dramatic piece that was of its time. We played a game of stairway, but it cost more than I could pay.

Speaker But again, Bing sings it with such conviction. It is a song that's like Gloomy Sunday. You feel like truly that he's not going to survive without this love. It's a certain kind of pathos and passion that later became homogenized. But, boy, that record, it's a great record.

Speaker I also think today's audiences really don't understand what a how he again is that very rare quality where he's not probably the crux of his appeal, which should say he's not threatening the man.

Speaker But he is a complete heartthrob to women. Men want to be friends with.

Speaker Interesting about Crosby. He was beloved by God. Interesting thing about Crosby is that guys loved him, guys loved his singing voice because there was a macho quality. Not interesting thing about Crosby is that guys loved his voice. He had a certain masculinity that appealed to them. They felt safe with him.

Speaker And then he's a heartthrob for women. And in the early days, there's Crosby with this crossover appeal and there's Rudy Vallee, whom women adore. Now, you listen to Rudy Vallee now, and it's a little hard to fathom the sex appeal in his voice.

Speaker But women are going crazy for him. But men know Crosby had all of it.

Speaker The duet with Louis Armstrong in High Society.

Speaker First of all, you can eat off the floor, and I love it here, but it wasn't really in stereo, can't have everything. But this, too is the I guess, the joy they both have. And it is palpable.

Speaker High society now you has jazz, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, spectacular, the routine, the song itself was put together by Saul Chaplin. Cole Porter writes a song that his. Cole Porter writes a song that is his attempt to encapsulate what jazz is, but it's Saul Chaplin who brings it together and comes up with the idea of the different guys in the band starting to play their instruments and such and then the staging of a photography of it. It is one of the best examples of the chemistry of Armstrong and Crosby. Was that OK or should I restate it? Yes, yeah. Yes. Restated are OK with that ok.

Speaker High society now you has jazz, one of the great filmic moments of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, they already had a long history together and it all seems to be encapsulated in that moment. It's just great cinema and, you know, it's real and then it's not.

Speaker Mrs.. Crashing waves, the knocked off the ceiling.

Speaker Oh, no, no, no. Both of their own just fine.

Speaker But it's.

Speaker There, obviously, really behind the scenes of high society, the screen, behind the scenes of high.

Speaker But based on the. I know name may have been OK.

Speaker I still hear it. OK. OK.

Speaker Behind the scenes of high society, the screenwriter John Patrick is going crazy because he has to keep changing the script to be favored. And Crosby's corner or favorite for Sinatra. He's going back and forth because they keep telling him to build up one part and build up the other. So there's all this stuff happening before the production of the film. And finally they get into production. And there's this moment on screen of Crosby and Sinatra singing. Well, did you ever. That is fantastic because it is the perfect balance of the two of them. Crosby is. Persona wise, everything that we expect of him, the confidence, the swagger, and there are Sinatra, who is like the loose cannon, the junior kid who is playing off of being in a way that was never, ever duplicated again in any of the collaborations.

Speaker We have a really interesting letter from Crosby.

Speaker I think he's doing all of the same.

Speaker The numbers are coming in on White Christmas, the movie, they're good. It could be better, but they're good. And he's saying he's saying this is not the production that could have been could have been a lot better in all respects. Did you ever we should talk about this movie, which I.

Speaker You know, I don't I don't get why people love this movie so much, but and also, I will say has.

Speaker Did Rosemary Clooney ever talk to. Express a similar feeling about.

Speaker With a film like White Christmas, you know that with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney in particular, Danny Kaye, the three of them were such incredibly smart, brilliant people. They knew that they weren't filming Shakespeare. Crosby later expressed privately that the film could have been better story wise, but there were certain conventions that they would settle for at the time. And there were a lot of people involved in the production of a film like White Christmas. And sometimes they would go along with what Paramount wanted or what the producers wanted. If they said, well, this is commercial, they'd go along with it. But Crosby and Clooney and Danny Kaye were all too hip for the room.

Speaker So it makes sense. Yeah, and did she ever express that to you? Talking about. No, she was fine with.

Speaker No, she never expressed that, I mean.

Speaker Generally, Rosemary Clooney, generally, Rosemary, would talk about how a lot of things she had to do in the 50s were were ingenuous in that there's one thing happening in real life and in films and in television and records, they had to do a very different thing. And that's very evident in a film like White Christmas.

Speaker Right, the so now, basically, if you ask 10 people out on the street, his reputation has suffered, obviously his book also because of the last series of Christmas specials and the M.A commercials and all those grandfatherly the funny hat sweater. Truly, people, it's amazing.

Speaker I have one of his sweaters and one of his hats on. I know I should have brought it, but the reputation has suffered. And one of his pipes.

Speaker I've got his jockstrap talk, so the reputation of suffering, the reputation suffered in Catherine and Mary and even Harry said to me on camera, but trying also that we should have done damage control after the blow. We just thought. Kids, he's done so much good for so long that we didn't need to and now in retrospect, we did exactly the wrong thing by not doing anything, by sort of subscribing to his model, which is just keep your head low, you know, certain things you cannot that you can't win with the press and all that they now realize. And also, given what the snipers they did when he died, they realized that they should have clicked into action. This guy probably a lot sooner, etc.. So now you talk to people. It's not good. It's really not good and. You know, this is why one good reason why we're doing this is because people do not realize the.

Speaker Normally in the popularity and people didn't have a cold feeling about him, obviously for, you know, 40 years.

Speaker What do you make of all this?

Speaker Since the time The Krosby has died, he has faded from public memory and to me it's tragic because he just was not only one of the most important voices of the 20th century, he was incredibly entertaining. And he just needs to be appreciated for the amazing talent he had as to why that happened. There are a number of factors. Certainly the fact that his family and the estate didn't jump on the bandwagon and try and continue to promote, especially with his passing, things that would have built the persona. But there wasn't a need perceived to do that because he was so enormously popular. It was as if he was always going to be around. Nobody would dream that Crosby would would fade. But as time and technology has changed. The shank of his work, the perhaps most resonant part of his work, happened in a way that was captured by earlier technology. So the fidelity of a lot of the recordings that were the greatest sound old. Today, the television shows are black and white, the movies are black and white, and a lot of people don't even want to see black and white movies. Some of the greatest records were made in the early 30s. It's going back so far that it's hard to get people to understand the whole sensibility of it. But there is an absolute timeless quality to what he did. Great art survives the ages, and Crosby's ability to communicate in a song remains undiminished.

Speaker Tell them tell us what crooner's.

Speaker A crooner is a person who sings softly, conversationally, crooning, I guess the technical definition is to sing very, very quietly.

Speaker Crooning in the context of a male singer of the 30s and 40s is a romantic singer, someone who does not overstate. When they sing, they sing in a way that is caressing and gentle as opposed to the Jolson's who sang. Oh, Crosby was called the Groner later in his career and he was a crooner. But before he was a crooner, he sang with this emotional intensity that he sublimated to become a crooner.

Speaker So what's the problem? Or is that. Do you?

Speaker To me, I can tell you what I think it means, I've never heard anyone actually verbalize what it means.

Speaker Crosby was called the Groner in the 40s because he became not like Perry Como, where he was so somnambulistic that you didn't even know if he was awake when he was singing sometimes. But he became so gentle in the way he'd sing it kind of it was almost like running. Mm hmm. It was sort of like a groan. It was just so effortless and so moving in and out of speech that they called him the Groner.

Michael Feinstein
Interview Date:
2014-06-03
Runtime:
0:55:16
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Michael Feinstein, Bing Crosby Rediscovered." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 03 Jun. 2014, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1148
APA CITATIONS:
(2014, June 03). Michael Feinstein, Bing Crosby Rediscovered. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1148
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Michael Feinstein, Bing Crosby Rediscovered." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 03, 2014. Accessed December 08, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1148

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