Crooner is an American epithet given to male singers of pop standards, mostly from the Great American Songbook, either backed by a full orchestra, a big band or by a piano. Originally it was an ironic term denoting an emphatically sentimental, often emotional singing style made possible by the use of microphones. Some performers, such as Russ Colombo, did not accept the term: in an interview Frank Sinatra said that he did not consider himself or Bing Crosby "crooners".
This dominant popular vocal style coincided with the advent of radio broadcasting and electrical recording. Before the advent of the microphone, popular singers like Al Jolson had to project to the rear seats of a theater, as did opera singers, which made for a very loud vocal style. The microphone made possible the more personal style. Al Bowlly, Gene Austin and Art Gillham are often credited as inventors of the crooning style but Rudy Vallée became far more popular, beginning from 1928. He could be heard by anyone with a phonograph or a radio. There were female crooners, including Annette Hanshaw, Mildred Bailey (at the beginning of her career) and Helen Rowland.
- "In his popular radio program, which began with his floating greeting, 'Heigh ho, everybody,' beamed in from a New York City night club, he stood like a statue, surrounded by clean-cut collegiate band musicians and cradling a saxophone in his arms."
His first film, The Vagabond Lover, was promoted with the line, "Men Hate Him! Women Love Him!" while his success brought press warnings of the "Vallee Peril": this "punk from Maine" with the "dripping voice" required mounted police to beat back screaming, swooning females at his vaudeville shows.
By the early 1930s the term "crooner" had taken on a pejorative connotation, both Cardinal O'Connell of Boston and the New York Singing Teachers Association publicly denouncing the vocal form, O'Connell calling it "base", "degenerate", "defiling" and un-American and the NYSTA adding "corrupt". Even The New York Times predicted that crooning would be just a passing fad. The newspaper printed, "They sing like that because they can’t help it. Their style is begging to go out of fashion…. Crooners will soon go the way of tandem bicycles, mah jongg and midget golf." Voice range shifted from tenor (Vallée) to baritone (Russ Columbo, Bing Crosby). Still, a 1931 record by Dick Robinson, Crosby, Columbo & Vallee, called upon men to fight "these public enemies" brought into homes via radio.
The genre enjoyed popularity within the former Soviet Union with Mark Reizen, Leonid Utyosov, Sergey Lemeshev, Ivan Kozlovsky, Pavel Lisitsian, Georg Ots, Oleg Anofriyev and Muslim Magomayev leading the way. Their performances had a variety of influences including ballads and swing and was included in popular film soundtracks.
After 1954 popular music became dominated by other styles, especially rock 'n' roll, while the music of latter-day crooners such as Perry Como and Matt Monro was recategorized as easy listening or adult contemporary. Crooners have remained popular among fans of traditional pop music, with contemporary performers such as Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, Brian Evans, Richard Hawley, Harry Connick, Jr., Frank Ocean, Michael Bublé, Neil Hannon and Engelbert Humperdinck keeping the form alive. The term is rarely used to describe a female singer, although Mildred Bailey's pre-swing records as well as Helen Rowland are often considered part of the "crooning" style. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dick Powell, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin and Jimmy Durante incorporated other popular styles into their music, such as blues, dixieland and even native Hawaiian music.
List of famous crooners
- Giddins, Gary (2001). Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years, 1903–1940. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. ISBN 0-316-88188-0. OCLC 44420761.
- Pitts, Michael; Hoffman, Frank (2002). The Rise of the Crooners: Gene Austin, Russ Columbo, Bing Crosby, Nick Lucas, Johnny Marvin, and Rudy Vallee. Studies and Documentation in the History of Popular Entertainment, No. 2. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4081-2. OCLC 46976469.
- Various artists (18 April 2006). Fabulous 50s Crooners Sing Their Hard to Find Hits (Compact Disc). Oshawa, Ont.: Hit Parade Records. OCLC 144986892. Catalog no. 12302.