Bing Crosby was born Harry Crosby in 1903. He was nicknamed “Bingo” as a child, and with a slight variation the moniker stayed with him throughout a spectacularly successful entertainment career.
Crosby gained popularity in the late 1920s as a singer with The Rhythm Boys. He went solo in the early 1930s and became a best-selling artist, to say the least. Crosby sold more than half a billion records in his lifetime, with the perennial favorite White Christmas accounting for 100 million sales alone.
Movies were no less successful for Crosby. In 1944 he won the Oscar for his leading role in Going My Way. In the following year, he received another Academy Award nomination for the film’s sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s. The teaming of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope delighted audiences seven times over from 1940’s Road to Singapore through 1962’s Road to Hong Kong. Handling more dramatic demands, Crosby was outstanding as an alcoholic has-been in 1954’s The Country Girl. He was one of the most popular box office attractions of all time. Meanwhile, Crosby had a long-running weekly radio program and later made numerous television appearances through the mid-1970s.
During World War II, Crosby devoted a great deal of time and effort to entertaining our troops in Europe. In a postwar poll, U.S. soldiers voted Crosby the person who had done the most to boost G.I. morale.
It is probably impossible to overestimate Bing Crosby’s influence on popular singing. Performers before him had to boom their voices all the way out to the mezzanines in music halls. For Crosby and his contemporaries, the new microphone technology made it unnecessary to belt out tunes with the older Al Jolson theatrics. But Crosby was credited as the first to recognize that the mikes allowed for a more intimate singing style. With his understated approach and jazz-inspired phrasing, Crosby revolutionized popular singing. The intimate style later embraced by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and countless others started with someone, and it started with Crosby.
Lesser known is the fact that Crosby did a great deal to advance the recording technology that took full advantage of the microphone. Throughout the early decades of his career, Crosby invested heavily in the development and perfection of magnetic recording tapes and equipment. Crosby was a pioneer in producing pre-recorded radio programs, allowing the strongest edited versions of live-audience programs to reach the air on his weekly program. Some said the more efficient production of his pre-recorded shows also allowed him to spend more time on his beloved golf courses.
An avid and skillful golfer, Crosby organized the tournament later known as the National Pro-Am in Pebble Beach. Initially, the event was conceived as a more casual affair, a “clambake,” as he called it. The first of these clambakes was held at Crosby’s local club in Rancho Santa Fe in 1937. (Sam Snead won the tournament and pocketed a princely $700 for the victory.)
Crosby’s biggest impact on the local sporting scene also came in 1937, when he co-founded the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and helped build the Del Mar Racetrack. He served on the board of directors and co-wrote a song to promote the track. During racing season even today, Crosby can still be heard in promos crooning about the idyllic place “where the turf meets the surf down in old Del Mar.”