Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby Jr., American singer and actor and descendant of Irish immigrants, is born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington. His trademark warm bass-baritone voice makes him one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, selling over one billion analog records and tapes, as well as digital compact discs and downloads around the world.
Crosby’s parents are Harry Lillis Crosby Sr. (1870–1950), a bookkeeper of English descent, and Catherine Helen “Kate” (née Harrigan; 1873–1964), a second generation Irish American. An ancestor, Simon Crosby, emigrates to America in the 17th century, and one of his descendants marries a descendant of Mayflower passenger William Brewster.
The first multimedia star, from 1931 to 1954 Crosby is a leader in record sales, radio ratings, and motion picture grosses. His early career coincides with technical recording innovations such as the microphone. This allows him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influences many of the popular male singers who follow him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, and Dean Martin. Yank, the Army Weekly magazine says that he is the person who has done the most for American soldiers’ morale during World War II.
The biggest hit song of Crosby’s career is his recording of Irving Berlin‘s “White Christmas,” which he introduces on a Christmas Day radio broadcast in 1941. The song then appears in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn. His record hits the charts on October 3, 1942, and rises to No. 1 on October 31, where it stays for eleven weeks.
In 1948, American polls declare him the “most admired man alive,” ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII. Also in 1948, Music Digest estimates that his recordings fill more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.
Crosby wins an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way and is nominated for his reprise of the role in The Bells of St. Mary’s opposite Ingrid Bergman the next year, becoming the first of six actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character. In 1963, he receives the first Grammy Global Achievement Award. He is one of 33 people to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the categories of motion pictures, radio, and audio recording.
Crosby influences the development of the postwar recording industry. After seeing a demonstration of an early Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder he places a large order for their equipment and convinces ABC to allow him to tape his shows. He becomes the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings onto magnetic tape. Through the medium of recording, he constructs his radio programs with the same directorial tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal, time shifting) used in motion picture production, a practice that becomes an industry standard. In addition to his work with early audio tape recording, he helps to finance the development of videotape, purchases television stations, breeds racehorses, and co-owns the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
On October 13, 1977, Crosby flies alone to Spain to play golf and hunt partridge. The following day, at the La Moraleja Golf Course near Madrid, he plays 18 holes of golf. As Crosby and his party head back to the clubhouse, Crosby says, “That was a great game of golf, fellas.” At about 6:30 PM, he collapses about 20 yards from the clubhouse entrance and dies instantly from a massive heart attack. At Reina Victoria Hospital he is administered the last rites of the Catholic Church and is pronounced dead. On October 18, following a private funeral Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Westwood, he is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. A plaque is placed at the golf course in his memory.