Crosby in 1953
|Birth name||George Robert Crosby|
August 23, 1913|
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
|Died||March 9, 1993
La Jolla, California, U.S.
|Genres||Swing, big band, Dixieland|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, bandleader, actor|
|Associated acts||Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Doris Day, Gisele MacKenzie, Jack Benny|
The seven Crosby children were brothers Larry (1895–1975), Everett (1896–1966), Ted (1900–1973), and Harry (1903–1977, popularly known as Bing Crosby), sisters Catherine (1905–1974) and Mary Rose (1907–1990), and Bob. His parents were English-American bookkeeper Harry Lowe Crosby (1871–1950) and Irish-American Catherine Harrigan (1873–1964, affectionately known as Kate), the daughter of a builder from County Mayo in Ireland.
Singer and bandleader
Bob Crosby began singing in the early 1930s with the Rhythm Boys, which included vocalist Ray Hendricks and guitarist Bill Pollard, and with Anson Weeks (1931–34) and the Dorsey Brothers (1934–35). He led his first band in 1935 when the former members of Ben Pollack's band elected him their titular leader. In 1935 he recorded with the Clark Randall Orchestra led by Gil Rodin and featuring singer Frank Tennille, whose pseudonym was Clark Randall. Glenn Miller was a member of that orchestra, which recorded the Glenn Miller novelty composition "When Icky Morgan Plays the Organ" in 1935.
Crosby's "band-within-the-band," the Bob-Cats, was an authentic New Orleans Dixieland-style jazz octet featuring soloists drawn from the larger orchestra, many of whom were from New Orleans or were heavily influenced by the music of the Crescent City. In the mid 1930s, with the rise of "swing" music and the popularity of the swing bands ever increasing, the Crosby band managed to authentically combine the fundamental elements of the older jazz style with the then-rising-in-popularity swing style; the resulting music they produced as a big band had a sound and style that few if any other big bands even attempted to emulate.
By unapologetically ignoring most of the pop tunes that were the de facto repertoire of most of the swing bands of the mid-to-late 1930s and stubbornly sticking to playing many older jazz standards with zeal and in the spirit of their tradition—all brilliantly translated into a big-band context—the band, and especially the Bob-Cats, presaged the traditional jazz revival of the 1940s. Most of the band's arrangements were written by bassist Bob Haggart and clarinetist/saxophonist Matty Matlock; other original material primarily came from band members Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, and Eddie Miller. Crosby's singing voice was remarkably similar to that of his brother Bing, but without its range.
In addition to the abovementioned band members, the Bob Crosby Orchestra and the Bob-Cats also included (at various times) Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Charlie Spivak, Muggsy Spanier, Irving Fazola, Nappy Lamare, Ward Silloway, Warren Smith, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, Jess Stacy, Bob Haggart, Walt Yoder, Jack Sperling, Ray Bauduc, and many others who came and went. A much later press account from 1943 mentions a young trumpeter by the name of Gilbert Portmore who occasionally played with the band.
The orchestra was one of the few bands of its time established as a cooperative corporation of its members, and it was managed/presided over by saxophonist Gil Rodin. The band was initially formed out of the ruins of the Ben Pollack Orchestra, whose members quit en masse. Needing a vocalist, they chose Crosby simply for his personality, looks, and famous surname. He was made the front man of the band, and his name became the band's public identity. In the spring of 1940, during a performance in Chicago, teenager Doris Day was hired as the band's female vocalist.
For its theme song the band chose George Gershwin's song "Summertime," and in addition to their theme the band's hit records included "South Rampart Street Parade" (its biggest hit), "March of the Bob Cats," "In a Little Gypsy Tea Room," "Whispers in The Dark," "Day In, Day Out," "Down Argentine Way," "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," "Dolores," and "New San Antonio Rose" (last three with Bing Crosby). A novelty bass-and-drums duet between Haggart and Bauduc, "Big Noise from Winnetka," became a hit in 1938-39.
The enduring popularity of the Bob-Cats led by Bob Crosby, whose biography was written by British jazz historian John Chilton, was evident during the frequent reunions in the 1950s and 1960s. Bob Haggart and Yank Lawson organized a band that kept the spirit alive, combining Dixieland and swing with a roster of top soloists. From the late 1960s until the mid 1970s, the group was known as the World's Greatest Jazzband. Since neither leader was happy with that name, they eventually reverted to the Lawson-Haggart Jazzband. The Lawson-Haggart group was consistent in keeping the Bob Crosby tradition alive.
Three of his songs ("Way Back Home" (1949), "Happy Times" and "Dear Hearts and Gentle People") were featured in three hit video games, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4, published by Bethesda Softworks. Most of the popularity of all of these songs was achieved by the use of them in the game trailers, in which they used his lighthearted music to contrast with the dark setting and combat taking place in the videos.
Bob Crosby has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for television and recording.
During World War II, Bob Crosby spent 18 months in the Marines touring with bands in the Pacific. His radio variety series, The Bob Crosby Show, aired on NBC and CBS in different runs from July 18, 1943, to July 16, 1950. This was followed by Club Fifteen on CBS from 1947 through 1953 minus a brief interlude when he was replaced as host by singer Dick Haymes during parts of 1949 and 1950. During his stint on Club Fifteen, he was teamed with the ever-popular Andrews Sisters three nights per week, singing with them and engaging in comedy skits. He first met the trio in 1938 when his orchestra backed their Decca recording of "Begin the Beguine," their popular vocalization of Artie Shaw's big band hit. One can't help when hearing these old Club Fifteen broadcasts how eerily similar Bob and the Andrews Sisters sound to the trio's very frequent and hugely successful pairings with brother Bing Crosby on the Decca label. Bob and Patty even scored a hit duet on Decca Records with their duet recording of the novelty "The Pussy Cat Song (Nyow! Nyot Nyow!)," which peaked at No. 12 on Billboard. A half-hour CBS daytime series, The Bob Crosby Show, followed from 1953 to 1957. Bob introduced the Canadian singer Gisele MacKenzie to American audiences and subsequently guest-starred in 1957 on her NBC television series, The Gisele MacKenzie Show.
On September 14, 1952, Bob replaced Phil Harris as the bandleader on The Jack Benny Program, remaining until Benny retired the radio show in 1955 after 23 years. In joining the show, he became the leader of the same group of musicians who had played under Harris. According to Benny writer Milt Josefsberg, the issue was budget. Because radio had strong competition from TV, the program budget had to be reduced, and so Bob replaced Phil. Prior to joining Benny on the radio, Crosby, who was based on the east coast, would often play with Benny during Benny's live New York appearances, and he was seen frequently throughout the 1950s on Benny's television series.
As a performer, Crosby had tremendous charisma and wit combined with a laid-back persona. He was able to swap jokes competently with Benny, including humorous references to his brother Bing's wealth and his string of losing racehorses. An exchange during one of the popular Christmas programs ran thus: Crosby muses to Jack that he's bought gifts for everyone but band member Frank Remley. When Jack suggests "a cordial, like a bottle of Drambuie," Crosby counters that Drambuie is an after-dinner drink and adds, alluding to Remley's penchant for alcohol, that "Remley never quite makes it to after dinner."
- Rhythm on the Roof (1934)
- Collegiate (1936)
- Paramount Headliner: Bob Crosby and His Orchestra (1938)
- Ambercombie Had a Zombie (1941)
- Let's Make Music (1941)
- Merry-Go-Roundup (1941)
- Sis Hopkins (1941)
- Rookies on Parade (1941)
- Reveille With Beverly (1943)
- Presenting Lily Mars (1943)
- Don't Hook Now (1943)
- Thousands Cheer (1943)
- See Here, Private Hargrove (1944)
- Pardon My Rhythm (1944)
- Kansas City Kittie (1944)
- The Singing Sheriff (1944)
- My Gal Loves Music (1944)
- Meet Miss Bobby Sox (1944)
- Pillow to Post (1945, scenes deleted)
- When You're Smiling (1950)
- Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)
- Stars in the Eye (1951)
- The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
- Road to Bali (1952)
- The Five Pennies (1960)
Bob Crosby guest-starred in the television series The Gisele MacKenzie Show. He also starred in his own afternoon variety show, The Bob Crosby show, that aired from 1953 to 1957. He also fronted a TV program in Australia in the 1960s. He was one of two featured singers (himself and Dennis Day) in mid-1950s episodes of The Jack Benny Program.
Crosby married socialite June Kuhn at his home in Spokane on 22 September 1938. They had five children, three boys (Christopher, George, and Stephen) and two girls (Cathleen and Junie). Crosby died in La Jolla, California on March 9, 1993, owing to complications from cancer. He was 79.
- U.S. Library of Congress, Copyright Entries.
- Fulton County History
- The encyclopedia of big band, lounge, classic jazz and space-age sound
- Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Pp. 101-102.
- Sforza, John: "Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story;" University Press of Kentucky, 2000; 289 pages
- New York Times (March 10, 1993): Obituary: Bob Crosby
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