Life Times Career Bing Crosby Part Three
Bing Crosby graduated from Gonzaga High School (today’s Gonzaga Prep) in 1920 and enrolled at Gonzaga University. He attended Gonzaga for three years, but did not earn a bachelor’s degree. As a freshman, he played on the university’s baseball team. The university granted him an honorary doctorate in 1937.
In 1923, Bing Crosby was invited to join a new band composed of high school students a few years younger than himself. Al Rinker, Miles Rinker, James Heaton, Claire Pritchard and Robert Pritchard, along with drummer Bing Crosby, formed the Musicaladers, who performed at dances both for high school students and club-goers. The group performed on Spokane radio station KHQ, but disbanded after two years. Bing Crosby and Al Rinker then obtained work at the Clemmer Theatre in Spokane (now known as the Bing Crosby Theater). Crosby was initially a member of a vocal trio called ‘The Three Harmony Aces’ with Al Rinker accompanying on piano from the pit, to entertain between the films. Bing and Al continued at the Clemmer Theatre for several months often with three other men – Wee Georgie Crittenden, Frank McBride and Lloyd Grinnell – and they were billed as ‘The Clemmer Trio’ or ‘The Clemmer Entertainers’ depending who performed.
In October 1925, Bing Crosby and his partner Al Rinker, brother of singer Mildred Bailey, decided to seek fame in California. They traveled to Los Angeles where they met up with Mildred Bailey. She introduced them to her show business contacts, and the Fanchon and Marco Time Agency hired them for thirteen weeks for a revue called The Syncopation Idea, starting at the Boulevard Theater in Los Angeles and then on the Loew’s circuit. They each earned $75 a week. Bing Crosby and Al Rinker began as a minor part of The Syncopation Idea and it was there that they started to develop as entertainers. They had a lively and individual style and were particularly popular with college students. After The Syncopation Idea closed, Bing and Al worked in the Will Morrissey Music Hall Revue. They further honed their skills with Morrissey, and blossomed when they subsequently had the chance to present their own independent act, and were quickly spotted by the Paul Whiteman organization. At that time, it was felt that Whiteman needed something different and entertaining to break up his musical selections, and Bing Crosby and Rinker filled this requirement. After less than a year in full-time show business, they had become part of one of the biggest names in the entertainment world. Hired for $150 a week in 1926, they debuted with Whiteman on December 6 at the Tivoli Theatre in Chicago. Their first recording, in October 1926, was I’ve Got the Girl, with Don Clark’s Orchestra, but the Columbia-issued record did them no vocal favors, as it was inadvertently recorded at a speed slower than it should have been, which increased the singers’ pitch when played at 78 rpm. Throughout his career, Bing Crosby often credited Mildred Bailey for getting him his first important job in the entertainment business.
The Rhythm Boys
Initial successes with Whiteman were followed by disaster when they reached New York and for a while Whiteman must have thought of letting them go. Possibly Bing Crosby might have been retained as Whiteman was already using him as a solo performer on record, but the prospects for Rinker must have been bleak. However, the addition of pianist and aspiring songwriter Harry Barris made all the difference to the act and “The Rhythm Boys” were born. The additional voice meant that the boys could be heard more easily in the large New York theaters and they quickly became a real success. A year touring with Whiteman performing and recording with musicians Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang and Hoagy Carmichael, provided valuable experience and then they were sent out on tour alone. Much has been written about the escapades of the three men during this period and clearly they were living life to the full. Despite all of this, Bing was continuing to develop and when the Rhythm Boys rejoined the Whiteman troupe in 1929, he had matured considerably as a performer. He was constantly in demand as a solo artist on record and radio.
Bing Crosby soon became the star attraction of the Rhythm Boys, and in 1928 he had his first number one hit with the Whiteman orchestra, a jazz-influenced rendition of “Ol’ Man River”. In 1929, the Rhythm Boys appeared in the film The King of Jazz with Whiteman but Bing’s growing dissatisfaction with Whiteman led to the Rhythm Boys leaving his organization. They joined the Gus Arnheim Orchestra performing nightly in The Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel. Singing with the Arnheim Orchestra, Bing Crosby’s solos began to steal the show, while the Rhythm Boys act gradually became redundant. Harry Barris wrote several of Bing Crosby’s subsequent hits including “At Your Command”, “I Surrender Dear”, and “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”. In the early months of 1931, a solo recording contract came Bing Crosby’s way, Mack Sennett signed him to make film shorts and a break with the Rhythm Boys became almost inevitable. Bing had married Dixie Lee in September 1930 and after a threatened divorce in March 1931, he started to apply himself seriously to his career. His gramophone records in 1931 broke new ground as his powerful and emotional singing started to change the face of popular music forever.
Their low salaries at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel had led the Rhythm Boys to walk out, causing union problems for Bing. Bing’s brother, Everett, interested Bill Paley of CBS in his brother and Paley beckoned Bing to come to New York. A settlement was reached with the Ambassador Hotel and Bing made his first solo national radio broadcast in September 1931 and then went on to star at the New York Paramount Theatre.