Sunday Morning Opera: Bing Crosby

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If you love the male voice the way I do, it is important to recognize the fact that one of the great all-time base-baritones was Bing Crosby. I know, he’s not opera, but darn it, Bing Crosby had one of the best voices this nation ever produced.  In my humble opinion, the greatest voices this nation has produced – in order:

  1. Sherrill Milnes
  2. Beverly Sills
  3. Leontyne Price
  4. Elvis
  5. Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra (tie)

Bing Crosby, ( May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977) is still the best selling recording artist of all time.  When my father was younger, everyone thought he was Bob Crosby, his younger brother.  My father loved that.  Bing was his favorite vocalist.

“…Crosby was one of the first singers to exploit the intimacy of the microphone, rather than using the deep, loud “vaudeville style” associated with Al Jolson and others. He was, by his own definition, a “phraser” or a singer who placed equal emphasis on both the lyrics and the music. Crosby’s love and appreciation of jazz music helped bring the genre to a wider mainstream audience. Within the framework of the novelty-singing style of the Rhythm Boys, Crosby bent notes and added off-tune phrasing, an approach that was firmly rooted in jazz. He had already been introduced to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith prior to his first appearance on record. Crosby and Armstrong would remain professionally friendly for decades, notably in the 1956 film High Society, where they sang the duet “Now You Has Jazz”.

During the early portion of his solo career (about 1931–1934), Crosby’s emotional, often pleading style of crooning was widely popular. But Jack Kapp (manager of Brunswick and later Decca) talked Crosby into dropping many of his jazzier mannerisms, in favor of a straight-ahead clear vocal style. Crosby credited Kapp for choosing hit songs, working with many other artists, and most importantly, diversifying his repertoire into various styles and genres. This approach’s wide appeal helped Crosby become highly successful, charting number-one hits in the genres of Christmas music, Hawaiian music and Country music, as well as top-thirty hits in Irish music, French music, Rhythm and blues, as well as Ballad songs. Crosby also elaborated on a further idea of Al Jolson‘s: phrasing, or the art of making a song’s lyric ring true. His success in doing so was influential. “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.”

Vocal critic Henry Pleasants wrote:

[While] the octave B flat to B flat in Bing’s voice at that time [1930s] is, to my ears, one of the loveliest I have heard in forty-five years of listening to baritones, both classical and popular, it dropped conspicuously in later years. From the mid-1950s, Bing was more comfortable in a bass range while maintaining a baritone quality, with the best octave being G to G, or even F to F. In a recording he made of ‘Dardanella‘ with Louis Armstrong in 1960, he attacks lightly and easily on a low E flat. This is lower than most opera basses care to venture, and they tend to sound as if they were in the cellar when they get there...”

With me, and crooners, you are going to get a steady diet of Cole Porter.

My father loved these movies. My mother did not. She always thought Dorothy Lamour was a joke. She would tell him that, and upset it. It was quite funny.

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