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Crosby, Bing, 1903-1977

  • LC50018853
  • Person
  • 1903-05-03 - 1977-10-14

Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby Jr. was an American singer, actor, and entrepreneur who remains one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. Crosby's career spanned almost 50 years, and in that time he recorded almost 400 charting singles, among which 41 reached #1—actually 43, since “White Christmas” reached #1 in 1945 and 1947 as well as 1942 (its original release). His most common recording partners were the Andrews Sisters, and onscreen he appeared in multiple films with Bob Hope.
Hope was born in Spokane, Washington. He got his famous nickname, Bing, at about age 7, from a parody hillbilly newsletter in the local paper. Although he graduated from high school and attended Gonzaga University, he never graduated. Instead, he sang in a series of singing groups and bands through the early 1920s until he and friend Al Rinker decided to try their fortunes in Los Angeles in 1925. In 1926, both were hired to sing with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Touring with the band and his own singing group, The Rhythm Boys, cemented Crosby's reputation and eventually led to a solo recording contract with Brunswick and a weekly radio show with CBS. Crosby made his national broadcast debut in September 1931. Fame quickly followed.
Crosby would appear in his first full-length film, "The Big Broadcast", in 1932. He signed a recording contract with the brand-new company Decca, who he would remain with for much of his career, in 1934. In 1936 he became the host of NBC's "Kraft Music Hall", a post he would hold for the next decade. Crosby was one of the first singers to take advantage of the invention of the microphone, which enabled him to "croon" instead of "belt" and set the musical standard for the stars that followed him: Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, among many others. As with many other singers of the era, Crosby toured extensively entertaining American troops during World War II. In 1942, Crosby starred in the movie "Holiday Inn" and recorded the song that still stands as the best-selling single of all time: "White Christmas". The song was issued and reissued so many times that Crosby had to rerecord it in 1947, as the original master had been damaged from repeated additional pressings.
In the 1950s and '60s Crosby continued to record and act, and appeared on nearly all of the television music variety programs of the era. He also changed the face of both radio and television broadcasting by, first in one medium and then the other, insisting on being able to pre-record his performances at times when each medium was typically performed live. As an avid investor in recording technology, Crosby appreciated and understood the value of being able to edit his performances to improve their quality. He pushed his contract studios to invest in the latest sound equipment and recording technology, particularly magnetic tape recorders, and his production studio pioneered many editing techniques that would be come industry standards.
Crosby died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 74.

Berlin, Irving, 1888 - 1989.

  • LC50026116
  • Person
  • 1888-05-11 - 1989-09-22

Israel Beilin, known as Irving Berlin, is widely regarded as one of the best and most prolific American composer-lyricists ever. Although born in Russia, his father brought the family to the US in 1893 to escape the widespread religious persecution in Russia during that period. The family, like many Jewish immigrants of the time, was extremely poor. Berlin worked to help support his family from the age of 8, hawking newspapers and singing for spare change. It was in those jobs that he learned what kind of music people wanted to hear and picked up the "ghetto" language and culture for which his work would become famous. As a teenager he began plugging songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall, and in 1906 he was hired as a singing waiter at the Pelham Cafe. He apparently taught himself to play piano after hours by copying and improvising on popular songs.
After working as a song plugger for Harry Von Tilzer for several years, in 1911 Berlin finally wrote and published the song that would catapult him into the spotlight: "Alexander's Ragtime Band". He rode the song's popularity, writing a ragtime musical revue in 1914 called "Watch Your Step". It was his first complete musical score. He soon transitioned into writing a string of lyric ballads as well as hundreds of briefly popular topical songs. In 1919 Berlin made headlines again when he wrote "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" for Florenz Ziegfeld's "Follies of 1919"; the song would be used as the opening theme for every Follies after that, as well as the 1936 movie "The Great Ziegfeld".
Berlin felt strongly that even Tin Pan Alley should support the US during times of conflict; when the US entered World War I in 1917, he wrote the song "For Your Country and My Country" and, after being drafted that same year, created the revue "Yip Yip Yaphank" as part of the 152nd Depot Brigade. The revue would end up on Broadway the next year, with Berlin performing. One notable song that didn't make it into the revue, but that he would finally publish in 1938, was "God Bless America".
After the end of World War I, Berlin created the Music Box Theater with Sam Harris to help showcase his songs. Between the wars, he published a steady stream of what would become popular standards: "Always," "Blue Skies," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." He also headed several revues, including "As Thousands Cheer," which added "Heat Wave" and "Supper Time" to his growing list of standards. He also wrote scores and songs for major film musicals, including "Top Hat" (1935), "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1938), "Holiday Inn" (1942), "Blue Skies" (1946) and "Easter Parade" (1948). "Holiday Inn," of course, was the vehicle for one of the best-selling songs of all time: "White Christmas," sung by Bing Crosby.
Berlin immediately returned to his patriotic writing after the attack on Pearl Harbor, creating another stage show called "This Is the Army." He supervised the 300-man production as it ran on Broadway and in Washington, DC, and then continued to travel with it overseas for over 3 years. He personally performed "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," originally written for "Yip Yip Yaphank," at nearly every show. He took no wages the entire time, and donated all the show's profits to the Army Emergency Relief Fund.
Almost immediately upon his return to the US, Berlin was approached by Rodger and Hammerstein to compose the music for their upcoming musical "Annie Get Your Gun"; Jerome Kern had been hired to write the score, but his sudden death left the pair stranded until Berlin reluctantly accepted. Despite his reluctance, "Annie Get Your Gun" includes some of Berlin's most famous Broadway songs: "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do." Berlin went on to write several more shows, the most successful of which was another Ethel Merman vehicle, "Call Me Madam." After writing "Mr. President" in 1962, Berlin officially renounced his retirement and stuck to it, very rarely appearing at public events and only writing one more new song, "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," for the Broadway revival of "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1966.
Berlin died in his sleep at the age of 101.

Hope, Bob

  • LC50028460
  • Person
  • 1903-05-29 - 2003-07-27

Astaire, Fred

  • LC50030703
  • Person
  • 1899-05-10 - 1987-06-22

Frederick Austerlitz, Jr., also known as Fred Astaire, was an American dancer of stage and motion pictures who was best known for a number of highly successful musical comedy films in which he starred with Ginger Rogers. He is regarded by many as a pioneer in the serious presentation of dance on film and the greatest popular-music dancer of all time. Astaire entered show business at age 5. He was successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele. After Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood and made a screen test, receiving an discouraging verdict from executives: “Can’t act, can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Signed to RKO, he was loaned to MGM to appear in Dancing Lady (1933) before starting work on RKO's Flying Down to Rio (1933) with Ginger Rogers. The two were a sensation, stealing the picture from stars Delores del Rio and Gene Raymond. Public demand compelled RKO to feature the pair in a classic series of starring vehicles throughout the 1930s, with The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Swing Time (1936) often cited as the best of the lot. Although Astaire worked well with several leading ladies throughout his career, including Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth (whom Astaire cited as his favorite on-screen partner) and Lucille Bremer, his partnership with Rogers had a special chemistry.
Astaire retired temporarily in 1946, during which he opened Fred Astaire Dance Studios, but returned to the screen in 1948 and appeared in a series of Technicolor musicals for MGM that, next to his films with Rogers, constitute his most highly regarded body of work. Several of Astaire’s most-famous dance routines appear in these films, such as the slow-motion dance in Easter Parade (1948), which also featured Judy Garland; the dance with empty shoes in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), which was his 10th and final film with Rogers; the ceiling dance and the duet with a hat rack in Royal Wedding (1951); and the dance on air in The Belle of New York (1952). The best of Astaire’s films during this period was The Band Wagon (1953), often cited as one of the greatest of film musicals; it featured Astaire’s memorable duet with Cyd Charisse to the song “Dancing in the Dark.”
Astaire’s run of classic MGM musicals ended with Silk Stockings (1957), after which his screen appearances were mostly in non-dancing character roles. He continued to dance with new partner Barrie Chase for several Emmy Award-winning television specials throughout the 1950s and ’60s, and he danced again on-screen in Finian’s Rainbow (1968) and for a few steps with Gene Kelly in That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976). He subsequently performed a number of straight dramatic roles in film and TV, most notably in On the Beach (1959); The Pleasure of His Company (1962); The Towering Inferno (1974), for which he received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor; and Ghost Story (1981), his final film.
Astaire was awarded an honorary Academy Award for his contributions to film in 1950, and he received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1981. He revolutionized the movie musical by simplifying it: Solo dancers or couples were shot in full-figure, and dances were filmed with a minimum of edits and camera angles. He was also noted for his quintessentially American vocal style; although possessing a rather thin-toned tenor voice, Astaire received much praise from jazz critics for his innate sense of swing and his conversational way with a song. His best vocal recordings were those he undertook in the early 1950s with jazz combos led by pianist Oscar Peterson.
Fred Astaire passed away from pneumonia on June 22, 1987, in Los Angeles, CA, at the age of 88.

Carmichael, Hoagy, 1899-1981

  • LC50032462
  • Person
  • 1899-11-22 - 1981-12-27

Hoagland Howard Carmichael was an American jazz singer-songwriter. Born and raised mostly in central Indiana, Carmichael's only real musical training were piano and voice lessons from his mother when he was a child. He attended high school and college in Bloomington, Indiana, playing piano and travelling around Indiana with his friend Bix Beiderbecke. Carmichael would eventually earn a law degree in 1926. He passed the Indiana bar exam but devoted most of his time to writing music. He recorded his first major song, "Star Dust," in late 1927, playing the piano himself and accompanied by Bix and members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. By 1929, with some limited success with other songs like "Washboard Blues," Carmichael gave up trying to be a lawyer and moved to New York City. There he met sheet music producer Irving Mills. Mills published "Star Dust" as "Stardust", with lyrics by Mitchell Parish added, as well as "Rockin' Chair". The latter was recorded by Louis Armstrong and quickly became a hit; the former finally saw commercial success when it was recorded by Isham Jones the next year in 1930. "Stardust" would be recorded again and again by a number of other famous artists for the next several decades.
Carmichael followed up his successes with another jazz standard, "Georgia on My Mind." Then, in 1933, he met up-and-coming lyricist Johnny Mercer. The pair went on to write several dozen songs, the most popular of which were "Lazybones," "Moon Country," and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool, of the Evening." Carmichael also began performing professionally. In 1936 he moved cross-country to Hollywood, working as a contracted songwriter for Paramount Pictures and occasionally acting as a character actor while continuing to write individual songs. In 1941 his continuing collaboration with Johnny Mercer produced another instant hit: "Skylark." The 1940s were arguably the peak of Carmichael's career, with numerous recordings, acting roles, and radio programs; the 1950s were filled with appearances in television variety shows. Aside from Ray Charles' 1960 hit recording of "Georgia On My Mind," however, Carmichael's songwriting career waned in the era of rock'n'roll and never recovered. He died of heart failure at the age of 82.

Martin, Mary

  • LC50040943
  • Person
  • 1913-12-1 - 1990-11-04
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