Bing Crosby: A Quick Study in Singing and Acting

Photo of Bing Crosby in the movie A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court from 1949
Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)

When Bing Crosby changed from "live" radio shows to transcribed ones, it was because he felt that better programs would result when they could be assembled and produced with the care and control that transcribing allows -- you can't change a song or a comedy line once it's gone on the airways, but you can always "edit" a transcription. Besides, having to show up for rehearsals and broadcasts at set times every week was working a hardship on the very busy Crosby. Transcribing, he could do his shows at his convenience.

But the rumor hounds bayed, "He can't trust his voice any more! Not hitting the high notes these days! And he's getting awfully husky, haven't you noticed?"

Says Troy Sanders, Paramount music director, who has worked with some of the biggest voices in the country: "As Bing has gotten older, his range has moved down a whole third. We feel he has developed a much richer tone. As for high notes, Bing can still produce wonderful high notes with perfect vocal technique whenever they're needed, and hold them as long as he wants. I know his range is much greater than he ever uses.

Asked if it were true that Crosby can't read music, Sanders laughed. "That's ridiculous. He reads like a flash. But I used to believe that rumor myself. Years ago I asked him, 'Why do you always want to see the music before the lyrics if you can't read music?' 'Well,' said Bing, 'I just like to see the notes go up and down.'

"I wish I could read them as well myself! In a few moments he has the music down cold -- then he concentrates on the lyrics. His interpretation of songs is by no means something he accomplishes casually -- even if the result seems so simple that everybody and his brother think they could sing a song as he does. He's developed a technique in popular songs as great in its way as that of any operatic star. Bing milks a song dry of every meaning it has."

"But isn't he awfully lazy?" I asked.

"Absolutely not! The thing is -- he's a quick study. Give him two-and-a-half pages of fresh script and he'll disappear for 15 minutes. When he comes back, he has it letter-perfect. You can pick out a song you know he hasn't sung in 20 years and he can sing it with all the words right. ... Recently we were sitting around the set of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court when Sir Cedric Hardwicke tossed off a line of Hamlet. Bing picked it up and spoke the rest of the lines not only perfectly, but movingly. After a moment's silence, Sir Cedric cleared his throat and said, 'When did you have time to learn all that?' Bing laughed and answered, 'Oh, back in my school days I was quite a thespian.'"

Frances Clark in Modern Screen, October 1949

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