Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BING PITCHING FOR DODGE

All of the fans of Bing know his special in 1958 which was sponsored by the ill conceived Edsel. The great special lasted longer than the car did, but Bing has pitched cars for a long time in his career. I am not sure when this adverstisement was published, but from the make of the car and Bing's look I would say some time in the 1930s...

Friday, May 25, 2012

MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: DEFENDING BING AND THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK

Now Michael Feinstein can admit it.

“When I was a teenager in Ohio, I would buy a record and hide it in my shirt as I walked home,” he says.

Feinstein, 55, smiles shyly and shakes his head as he thinks of it. “I was afraid that if any kids saw what I’d bought, they’d ostracize me or make me feel like a fool.”

Those records included songs sung by Sinatra or ones written by the Gershwins. But for the last few decades, Feinstein has been proud to let people know what music he’s always loved.

He’ll share it this Saturday night with New Brunswick audiences at the State Theatre’s annual gala benefit concert. Songs from his recent DVD “The Sinatra Project” will be part of the mix, as well as plenty of songs from Broadway shows.

“And Gershwin, who was the most nominated in this year’s Tony Awards?” he says, eyes gleaming. (Both “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” which uses his music, and “Porgy and Bess” each got 10 nominations.)

Feinstein knows some parents will dutifully bring their children to his concert. “I do play to multigenerational audiences,” he says. “Of course, some of those kids absolutely tune out and are completely bored. That’s because they don’t know how to listen to lyrics. I wish someone would teach a course on ‘How to Listen.’ ”

Actually, Feinstein is doing his part, with his Carmel, Ind.-based Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative. “To acquaint the younger generation, we’re doing educational outreach, master classes and vocal competitions,” he says. “I know that there are kids all over the world who feel as disenfranchised as I did because they love ‘different’ music.”

Feinstein says he was much more worried about keeping this music alive a quarter century ago, just when he was breaking out as a major artist.

“It was my first New York gig at the Algonquin Hotel,” he recalls. “I looked out and saw so many late middle-aged people at the tables. I thought, ‘The audience who appreciates my music is going to be dead in 20 years.’ I really thought that, and wondered if I’d have a career in 2006.”

Not to worry. He has caught the ear of young people as they aged and matured.

“I don’t think that today’s pop market is going to change and return to ‘my’ music,” he says. “However, I really believe in planting musical seeds. You never know how they’ll grow and who they’ll influence.”

To that end, Feinstein recently started “Song Travels,” a series on National Public Radio. “It’s 50 percent music and 50 percent talk,” he says. “I’ve had on such guests as Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler, who really loves to talk about good music.”


Feinstein says that such exposure is vital. “There was a time when Bing Crosby was the No. 1 record-seller in the world, the No. 1 radio-star in the world and the No. 1 film star in the world,” he says, with more than a little awe in his voice.

Now comes the sadness: “Today, aside from ‘White Christmas,’ so few people know who he is,” he says.

Feinstein believes he knows why. “When I was a kid,” he says, “my whole family would sit around the TV and watch those variety shows. Now those shows are long gone, but even if they weren’t, a lot of families wouldn’t be able to make the time and sit and watch them as a unit. That’s why it’s important that we all be together in one large space to share the music — like the State Theatre on Saturday night.”

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

BING AND ROSEMARY CLOONEY: A FRIENDSHIP

The Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney Show is a treat for audiences, but was also a good deal of fun for its stars. In 1960 radio made a bid to attract some daytime listeners, and proposed the project to Bing. Rosemary Clooney had found success in the high-pressure world of the early 1950s recording industry, and became a household name with the 1954 release of White Christmas in which she starred with Crosby. By this time Bing was successful enough that he didn’t need the work, and would only do the show if it could be prerecorded on magnetic tape (Crosby was an investor in Ampex, the first successful American tape recorder.)

The shows were rather simple; they featured music, was usually from earlier recordings that Clooney and Crosby had made, although they did record some duets for the show. Because the recording equipment was somewhat portable, the spoken parts of the show could be recorded whenever and where ever is was convenient for the stars to get together. Often this would be at Clooney’s home, the Hollywood mansion that had formerly belonged to composer George Gershwin. This would have been very convenient for Clooney, mother of seven whose marriage to Jose Ferrer was on the rocks (they would divorce in 1961, reconcile in 1964, and divorce again in 1967.) It also allowed Bing plenty of time for the golf course.

Things didn’t remain fine for Rosemary. She had long suffered from bipolar disorder, and fought depression for many years. Soon after her second divorce from Ferrer, she found solace by campaigning for her friend Bobby Kennedy’s bid for the Presidency. She was with him when he was assassinated in 1968. This led to a nervous breakdown on stage a month later. She would recover from the breakdown, but her career was in a shambles. She was reduced to singing in Holiday Inn lounges to make ends meet, all the while fighting her addiction prescription medications.


In 1976 Bing was planning a tour to celebrate his 50th year in Show Business. This would be his last tour, and he asked his good friend Rosemary Clooney to join him. It would be the beginning of Clooney’s comeback.

After their tour of England, Bing flew to Spain to go hunting and play golf. After 18 holes near Madrid on Oct 14, 1977, Bing collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.

Rosemary always felt that her mission in life was to sing well. She told interviewers that she hoped that she would know when her talent began to fade, so she could leave the stage.

Rosemary’s last performance was singing “God Bless America” with the Honolulu Symphony Pops in late 2001. She died of lung cancer at her home in Beverly Hills on June 29, 2002...



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Thursday, May 10, 2012

BING AND MILDRED BAILEY


In the late 1930s, a sweet-voiced singer from the Northwest helped propel the nation into a new era of music, known as swing. Her name was Mildred Bailey -- sometimes called the “Rockin’ Chair Lady,” for her signature song.

Bailey went down in history as a white vocalist who helped popularize jazz singing. Except, she wasn’t white. Bailey was half Coeur d’Alene Indian – a fact that received little attention, until recently. Correspondent Jessica Robinson has this story of two women, both named Julia, who Mildred Bailey brought together decades after her death.

Julia Keefe is an aspiring singer from Spokane. Back when she was in high school, she researched her hometown’s favorite son, Bing Crosby. In the crooner’s autobiography, Keefe made a discovery: “He mentioned this woman named Mildred Bailey and how he appreciated knowing her so early in life. And it just sparked a curiosity. So I started just digging,” Keefe says.

Keefe learned that Mildred Bailey had done more than inspire Bing Crosby. At the end of the Roaring Twenties, she became the first female singer with a major jazz orchestra, giving the hugely popular instrumental genre a voice.

And it wasn’t just any voice. Keefe uncovered a public opinion poll in the liner notes of a Billie Holiday album.

“It has Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, one, two, three. But Mildred Bailey was at the top. She was the one to beat,” Keefe says.

But Keefe, now 22, says as she got deeper into Bailey’s life, she started to notice inconsistencies in the basic facts.

“Like her date of birth, where she was from, what her ethnicity was,” Keefe says.

Julia Keefe is half Nez Perce Indian. So it struck a chord in her when she learned Mildred Bailey was half Coeur d’Alene. Bailey was born sometime around 1900 and spent her childhood on the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho.


Mildred Bailey hadn’t exactly kept this information a secret ...

“But I don’t think it was something she was broadcasting. I think she wanted to keep herself ethnically ambiguous,” Keefe says.

“The music business was extraordinarily segregated at that time,” says Greg Yasinitsky, who teaches jazz history at Washington State University. “There were a lot of black musicians who would pass for white because the money was better and the touring schedule was better. And Mildred – certainly there would have been an advantage to being perceived as a white singer,” Yasinitsky says.

Julia Keefe, meanwhile, wanted to know what Bailey was really like. And that’s what led Julia Keefe to Julia Rinker-Miller. Mildred Bailey was her aunt, her father’s sister.

Julia Rinker-Miller remembers making up little dance routines for her elegant Aunt Millie in Los Angeles in the ‘40s.


“I just remember her laughing so hard. Her presence was very powerful. And I found her just other-worldly,” says Rinker-Miller.

Rinker-Miller had heard parts of her family’s past here and there. Childhood taunts her father received for being half Native American. Music class at Catholic school on the reservation. But for the most part, Julia Rinker-Miller saw her musician father and her Aunt Mildred through the glitzy lens of show business. Only through Julia Keefe’s questioning, did she start to think about their lives as Native Americans.

“What it must have meant to be on the reservation looking out. It gives me a sense of – my god – I’m understanding who I am. Like Wow!” says Rinker-Miller.

In fact, she learned Mildred Bailey once credited traditional Native American singing with shaping her voice.

But there’s something else that both Julias found in their search. A little-known song both acknowledge is a low point in Bailey’s repertoire. In 1938, Mildred Bailey followed a fad of singing about Native Americans in a way that most people today would find offensive.

Julia Rinker-Miller says the song, “Wigwammin’” disguises Bailey’s identity in a parody of Native American clich├ęs.

“You know, this is the point, how really sad and heartbreaking it is, that people were not able to come out and wear their culture and be proud of it,” says Rinker-Miller.

Julia Keefe doubts Bailey saw the song as an homage to her culture.

J“Of course, as a Native American woman, it was a little jarring at first, but I think it was just one of those things you had to do. You break down the walls you can. But you also had to play the game,” says Keefe.

In 2009, Keefe performed a tribute to Bailey at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. “Wigwammin’” was not on the set list. Keefe chose songs that she felt showed Bailey’s unique place in jazz history -- like Bailey’s “There Will Never Be Another You.”

“There’re two versions of this song, there’s one that everyone usually plays . But this other song that Mildred recorded was . It’s completely different from the other version," says Keefe.

Julia Keefe and Julia Rinker-Miller are now both campaigning to have Mildred Bailey inducted into the Lincoln Center’s Jazz Hall of Fame as a Native American jazz singer. Keefe says she no longer sees Bailey as a research subject. She sees her as a friend.

“And maybe that’s cheesy. But it gave me the strength to look at myself as not just another girl from Spokane. Not just another jazz singer. I’m sure Mildred Bailey was called just another jazz singer too,” Keefe says.

Julia Keefe keeps a picture of Mildred Bailey on her wall. When Keefe graduates with a degree in music this spring, she’ll take it with her...

SOURCE

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CROONERS AND PALM SPRINGS

Music lovers are soaking up the vibes this week of music legends at the Empire Polo Club.

Radiohead, Jimmy Cliff and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are there this weekend for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Steve Martin, Kenny Rogers, Roy Clark and Ralph Stanley will appear next weekend at Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival.

But music legends have been coming to this desert long before Goldenvoice started importing them. Following is a list of some music legends with landmarks reflecting their desert roots...


AL JOLSON: Old-timers call him the greatest entertainer ever. He was chosen to say the first words in talking pictures in 1927's “The Jazz Singer.” He began coming to Palm Springs in the 1930s and lived at 570 Via Corta for parts of four years before his death in 1950. His style is perpetuated today by artists such as Liza Minnelli, whose mother, Judy Garland, imitated Jolson as a kid.

GENE AUSTIN: This Texas native invented the soft style of singing known as crooning partly as an alternative to Jolson's aggressive vocal style. Austin, whose biggest hit was “My Blue Heaven,” sold more records than any other RCA Victor artist until Elvis Presley in the 1950s. He spent his last days at 1440 S. Driftwood in Palm Springs before dying at Desert Regional Medical Center in 1972.

RUDY VALLEE: This preppy favorite became the first singer to incite women to tear off a performer's clothes in the late '20s. He went on to popularize the variety show format with a radio program that was near the top of the national ratings throughout the '30s. His house in Las Palmas has been razed, but there are still remnants of the Palm Springs Racquet Club, which he helped popularize by playing there regularly. He also has a spot on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars at 123 N. Palm Canyon Drive.

BING CROSBY: This crooner was Tin Pan Alley's first-call vocalist in the '30s. Consequently, he had more top-10 hits than any artist in history. He also won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Going My Way” in 1944. Sadly, Bing Crosby's restaurant in Rancho Mirage closed and his two Coachella Valley houses are in gated communities. But you can take a photo of yourself at the gate of the Blue Skies Village mobile home park at 70-260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, which Crosby helped design in 1955.

GENE AUTRY: He may be best known today as the founder of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but Autry also was an immensely popular film and recording star as Hollywood's original singing cowboy. He also was quite a presence in the valley and his widow still lives in Palm Springs. His hotel where they lived is now The Parker. A building at Eisenhower Medical Center is named after him. But the best place for an Autry-themed photograph is the statue of him at the corner of Ramon Road and Gene Autry Trail in — coincidentally — Gene Autry Plaza.

FRANK SINATRA: When the McCallum Theatre's Mitch Gershenfeld was recently asked if Sinatra's popularity had waned since his death in 1998, he just laughed. Sinatra is the one pop singer whose popularity is not likely to wane. He also remains ubiquitous in the valley. The Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention and Visitors Authority can you give you a self-guided tour of places associated with him, including his homes in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage. But the coolest place to feel his presence is at his grave site at Desert Memorial Park, 31-705 Da Vall Drive, Cathedral City, near a pack of friends and family including his parents, songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen and friend Jilly Rizzo.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

HAPPY 109TH BIRTHDAY BING!

On this day, Mary 3rd in 1903 the greatest entertainer of all time was born. Happy 109th birthday Bing! Where has the time gone!