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Bob Crosby

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  • Born: Spokane, WA
  • Died: La Jolla, CA
  • Years Active: 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s

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Biography All Music GuideWikipedia

All Music Guide:

Bob Crosby, Bing's younger brother, often found himself in the odd position of being the least important member of his own orchestra. Indeed, he couldn't play an instrument or read a note of music, which didn't stop him from enjoying a long career in music, in that very odd position. He was born George Robert Crosby in Spokane, Washington, in 1913, and like his older brother, he did start out on a conventional career path, attending college, and like brother Bing, he also dropped out of college in favor of getting work as a singer. Actually, it was a somewhat less direct route from student to crooner, as Crosby was, by his own account, supporting himself picking cucumbers in Spokane when bandleader Anson Weeks tapped him for the singer spot in his band, where he remained for two years, from 1932 through 1934. Those were tough years, as the effects of the Great Depression swelled and lingered, and it was good to have a steady gig, especially as he learned a lot about vocalizing during this period; he jumped to a six-month stay with the Dorsey Brothers' band in 1934, and then, in 1935, fate took a hand.

A group of musicians working for bandleader Ben Pollack had quit en masse and organized themselves under the direction of saxophonist Gil Rodin, as a cooperative venture, with all of the members owning an equal share in the group -- the Casa Loma Orchestra had done the same thing at the start of the decade and were reaping big rewards, and this group had at least as much talent as the Casa Lomans did. What they needed was a vocalist who could also provide them with a name and personality that the public could appreciate; ironically, it was "Cork" O'Keefe, their agent -- who'd also played a key role in organizing the Casa Lomans -- who steered them toward Bob Crosby. He could, by then, sing in a winning, popular style, at his best moments nearly as well as his brother -- and Bing Crosby by then was selling enough 78s to turn newly established Decca Records into a major label -- and he had a personality that the listening public liked. And he had an unassuming ego that allowed him, even as the presumptive "leader," to yield center stage to the various soloists, which included trumpet man Yank Lawson, clarinetist Matty Matlock (later succeeded by Irving Fazola), and saxman Eddie Miller, and to top it off, they had Ray Bauduc, no less, as their drummer.

In the middle of that company was Crosby, an OK singer who held the popular audience. The band had its feet planted astride two -- or three -- musical worlds; Crosby's singing gave them their pop side and their personality, while arranger Bob Haggart (and, later, Matlock as well) wrote charts that were as contemporary as any jazz of the second half of the '30s; but the band also kept some aspects of its sound rooted in familiar '20s attributes, and their devotion to Dixieland jazz was unmistakable (especially with Miller, Bauduc, and Nappy Lamare, New Orleans natives all, in the lineup). Eventually, the Bobcats -- or, sometimes, Bob Cats -- coalesced from within the larger orchestra; a Dixieland octet, they proved phenomenally popular in their own right.

The 1935-1942 period was Crosby's heyday, with his band featuring such classic soloists as Billy Butterfield, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, Jess Stacy, and Muggsy Spanier. During an era when swing was the thing and New Orleans jazz was considered by many to be ancient history, Crosby's crew led the way to the eventual New Orleans revival. Such classic recordings as "South Rampart Street Parade" and "What's New" (both composed by bassist Haggart), along with the many Dixieland stomps, kept the band quite popular. The other secret to their success was the radio: in the late winter of 1938, the orchestra got a gig at the Blackhawk Restaurant in Chicago, which included 11 national broadcasts each week and gave them all of the exposure they needed. Fans of their Dixieland sound rallied to the call and orders for their recordings soared; their subsequent performances on the Camel Caravan show proved just as important in carrying them to the end of the decade. And it didn't hurt that the orchestra was nearly as fortunate in its choice of female singers as it had been in finding Crosby: Doris Day (who left because the 17-year-old was overwhelmed by the ungentlemanly antics of the members, finding a safer haven with Les Brown) and Kay Starr were among the distaff luminaries who sang with them. Crosby also made movies with the band. Though he was never remotely the screen presence that his brother was, Bob Crosby and his band showed up in performance clips in movies such as Columbia's Reveille with Beverly, and he got to do some acting (while the band was featured several times) in Republic's Sis Hopkins, and they played on the soundtrack to the Paramount production Holiday Inn, one of the most popular musicals of the early '40s (and the film that introduced the song "White Christmas").

The orchestra broke up in September of 1942, and Crosby served in the Marines during 1944-1945, and then spent the rest of his life in a variety of activities, often bringing back versions of the Bobcats for special concerts and recordings, taking an occasional vocal but mostly letting his sidemen play. Bob Crosby passed away in 1993, and in the years since many of his best recordings have remained in print on CD. Indeed, the existence of several CD anthologies covering the Crosby orchestra's and the Bobcats' seven-year history is testimony to the continuing popularity of their brand of music; similarly, the showings of the Crosby-featured (or co-starring) movies Reveille with Beverly (1944) and Sis Hopkins (1942) at New York's Film Forum in 2007 proved to be among the most heavily attended of the theater's three-week "B-musicals" series.

Wikipedia:

For the Rodeo champion, see Robert A Crosby.

For the baseball player, see Bobby Crosby

George Robert "Bob" Crosby (August 23, 1913 – March 9, 1993) was an American swing music singer and Dixieland bandleader and vocalist best known for his group the Bob-Cats.

Family[edit]

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 (1905–1988) 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.

Career[edit]

Singer and bandleader[edit]

Bob Crosby began singing in the early 1930s with the Delta 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 two hit video games, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, 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 combat taking place in the video.

Bob Crosby has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for television and recording.

Radio[edit]

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 between the years 1943 to 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."

^ U.S. Library of Congress, Copyright Entries.^ Fulton County History^ The encyclopedia of big band, lounge, classic jazz and space-age sound^ Sforza, John: "Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story;" University Press of Kentucky, 2000; 289 pages

Filmography[edit]

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)
Television[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

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.

^ New York Times (March 10, 1993): Obituary: Bob Crosby

Media[edit]

Haendiges Listening Lounge: The Jo Stafford Show with vocal by Bob CrosbyPandora: Bob CrosbyRadio Lovers: The Bob Crosby Show with Eileen Barton
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