If Bing Crosby seems like a voice from a long-forgotten era, it’s because in many ways he is. As cabaret star Michael Feinstein laments, “No one dreamed he’d fade.”
Except maybe the four sons from his first marriage, two of whom committed suicide and two who died of natural causes. Crosby’s stern parenting, which included corporal punishment, was detailed in his late son Gary’s memoir Going My Own Way,
the title an ironic comment on Crosby’s most famous film, which was published six years after Bing’s death in 1977.
The “American Masters” special, Bing Crosby Rediscovered,
narrated by Stanley Tucci, aggressively and dutifully tries to repair the image of Bing the Beater by celebrating his impressive accomplishments.
First, there was the voice. Not a belter like contemporaries Rudy Vallee and Al Jolson, Crosby’s velvety baritone imbued a song with an intimacy that had not been heard up until that time, directly influencing crooners Frank Sinatra
, Perry Como and Dean Martin
He offered male singers a way to surrender to the melody while retaining their masculinity, and he was a born collaborator who gravitated towards the harmony part. He could sing with anyone—Judy Garland
, Ella Fitzgerald
, Louis Armstrong
, Sinatra and—in a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it moment — with a crucifix-wearing David Bowie (dueting on “The Little Drummer Boy”).