Sunday, May 29, 2011


On this day in Bing history some 69 years ago, Bing Crosby, the Ken Darby Singers and the John Scott Trotter Orchestra record Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" in Los Angeles for Decca Records.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it in 1940, poolside at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"

The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941. He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm songs from the film Holiday Inn. At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song. He just said "I don't think we have any problems with that one, Irving."

The song initially performed poorly and was overshadowed by the film's first hit song: "Be Careful, It's my Heart". By the end of October 1942, however, "White Christmas" topped the "Your Hit Parade" chart. It remained in that position until well into the new year. (It has often been noted that the mix of melancholy — "just like the ones I used to know" — with comforting images of home — "where the treetops glisten" — resonated especially strongly with listeners during World War II. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song.)

In 1942 alone, Crosby's recording spent eleven weeks on top of the Billboard charts. The original version also hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks, Crosby's first-ever appearance on the black-oriented chart. Re-released by Decca, the single returned to the #1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946 (on the chart dated January 4, 1947), thus becoming the only single with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts. The recording became a chart perennial, reappearing annually on the pop chart twenty separate times before Billboard magazine created a distinct Christmas chart for seasonal releases.

Following its prominence in the musical Holiday Inn, the composition won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In the film, Bing Crosby sings "White Christmas" as a duet with actress Marjorie Reynolds, though her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. This now-familiar scene was not the moviemakers' initial plan; in the script as originally conceived, Reynolds, not Crosby, was to sing the song.

The version of "White Christmas" most often heard today is not the original 1942 Crosby recording, as the master had become damaged due to frequent use. Crosby re-recorded the track on March 18, 1947, accompanied again by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, with every effort made to reproduce the original recording session. There are subtle differences in the orchestration, most notably the addition of a celesta and flutes to brighten up the introduction.

Crosby was dismissive of his role in the song's success, saying later that "a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully." But Crosby was associated with it for the rest of his career. Another Crosby vehicle — the 1954 musical White Christmas — was the highest-grossing film of 1954...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Music Review: Bing Crosby - Return To Paradise Islands (Deluxe Edition)
By David Bowling

Return To Paradise Islands is one of six Bing new releases which gathers long lost and unreleased material, cleans and polishes it, and issues it in CD form for old and new fans alike.

Bing Crosby influenced a generation of pre rock ‘n’ roll crooners and it can be argued a number after that point as well. His style and popularity set him apart from his peers as his easygoing vocals enabled him to sell nearly one billion records worldwide in addition to a distinguished acting career.

He had a history of recording songs from the Island of Hawaii. Beginning in 1936 he would record 40 sides of Hawaiian material. His most famous was his rendition of “Sweet Leilani,” from the film Waikiki Wedding, which won the 1937 Oscar for Best Song.

1963 found him signed to Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label. He entered the studio three times during the last half of 1963 and recorded the 12 tracks for what would become his 1964 release Return To Paradise Islands.He would be backed by arranger/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle who would provide a lush background for his vocals. The vinyl release quickly disappeared and has never been re-issued in CD form. It now returns in a new stereo mix with five bonus songs added for good measure.

It is the slower tempo material which really shines. “The Old Plantation” and “Forevermore” are effortless. His cover of “Adventures In Paradise,” which was taken from the television series of the same name, is equally relaxed.

Whether it’s the indigenous songs such as “The Hukilau Song” and "Lovely Hula Hands” or the lighter “Keep Your Eyes On Your Hands” or “Home In Hawaii,” it is a smoothly flowing affair from a musical era long gone.

Five of the bonus tracks are taken from radio appearances and are very simple as he is backed by Buddy Cole and His Trio who were very different from The Nelson Riddle Orchestra. “My Little Grass Shack,” “The Cockeyed Mayor Of Kaunakakai,” “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula,” “Ukulele Lady,” and “King’s Serenade” feature Bing’s voice with only minimal keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums in support. It all adds up to a nice counterpoint to the main body of the album.
The re-release of Return To Paradise Islands is another link in the reintroduction of the Bing Crosby catalogue to the 21st century. It may not be rock ‘n’ roll but it does find one of the mid-20th century masters at the height of his powers.



Not a whole lot of Bing in this story, but it is interesting that Bing had a connection with even forgotten country singers...

Newswise — The late and legendary musician Bob Wills is the King of Western Swing — which Texas lawmakers this week declared Texas’ official music — but it’s time to pay homage to a lesser known fellow who helped Wills ascend to the throne, says a Baylor University researcher.

“You ask anybody, ‘Ever heard of Tommy Duncan?’ and you get dead silence,” said Curtis Callaway, a lecturer in journalism and media arts at Baylor. “You ask, `Ever heard of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys?’ Immediately everyone raises their hands with excitement. I’ve done this in a room of 150 people. Well, who do you think was singing? Tommy Duncan was one of the best vocalists of the time.”

Callaway and half a dozen Baylor students are researching singer-songwriter Duncan of the band Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys for a documentary In the Shadow of the King — The Tommy Duncan Story. They are shooting videos of interviews with Duncan’s family, the founder of his fan club and musicians that played with him. The film, marking the 100th anniversary of Duncan’s birth, will include footage of the singer’s performances. He was born in Whitney, Texas, on Jan. 11, 1911.

None of this is to minimize singer-songwriter-showman Wills, Callaway said, lauding him as “an entertainer who knew the business and was a genius at it. He played the fiddle, he was the band leader, he was the marketer.”

Wills, with his high-pitched voice, perpetually chimed in with “AW, yeah,” “Ah-HAH,” and “Come in, Tommy,” but Duncan was the singer on virtually all the hits, Callaway said.

While Duncan is known among musicians rather than the public, his influence is felt as far away as Scotland. There, a band of his fans called Stretch Dawson and the Mending Hearts performs western swing, complete with bagpipes, Callaway said.

Western swing is a form of country that originated in the 1920s and 1930s, with an up-tempo dance sound incorporating jazz and sometimes ragtime, blues, zydeco — even gospel. Among Bob Wills’ hits were San Antonio Rose, Faded Love, Roly Poly and Bubbles in My Beer.

“Bing Crosby was a big fan of Tommy Duncan’s, and they were friends,” Callaway said. “They even had their horses stalled next to each other. They rode together and went to the races together.”

Duncan died in 1967 in a motel room in San Diego after a performance. The coroner’s report said he had a heart condition, and pills for the heart were found in the room.
Callaway, who has been financing the music project himself, said he hopes to obtain a grant or private funding. He has several photo albums of Duncan. Pam Townley of Whitney, founder of Tommy Duncan Fan Club, is lending him Duncan’s hat, boot, spurs and records that may not have been heard before.

Wills and Duncan “had their differences, and it was devastating when they broke up,” Callaway said. “Together, they were perfect. But Tommy Duncan never got the credit, and it’s time he did.”


Monday, May 23, 2011


Here is a review of the now controversial film DIXIE from the New York Times on June 24, 1943...


Gentlemen (and ladies), be seated—at the Paramount Theatre, that is to say—if you are interested in some old-time minstrel capers tossed off in a Technicolor film. For songs and jigs and funny sayings are what Paramount is delivering about 40 per cent of the time in a ruffled and reminiscent picture entitled "Dixie," which came to that theatre yesterday. Otherwise the remainder of the picture is mainly and not so spiritedly absorbed in a largely fictitious story of Dan Emmett, the original "Virginia Minstrels" man and the author of the rousing song "Dixie" —a role which the old booper, Bing Crosby, plays.

When the minstrels in their shiny, long, white trousers, swallowtail coats and high silk hats are jabbering and kyaw-kyaw-kyawing and flinging their lithesome legs around, the film has a fitful exuberance. Raoul Pene du Bois has dressed them up in brilliant clothes, and a quartet of uninspired writers has raided the warehouse for some old but safe jokes. And when Bashful Bing is warbling such sparkless but adequate songs as "Sunday, Monday or Always," "She's From Missouri" or "A Horse That Knows the Way Back Home," it is easy to sit back and listen. There is also a dash of liveliness in the wholly apochryphal climax which pretends to show how "Dixie" was born.

But when the story goes weakly meandering into a pointless, confused romance between Dan and a New Orleans hoyden, played airily by Dorothy Lamour, and then marries him off to an old sweetheart who is crippled (Marjorie Reynolds), it is labored and dull. (Miss Lamour doesn't do any singing; just flounces around and plays straight.) Raymond Walburn, the late Lynne Oevrman and Eddie Foy Jr. puff and prance as minstrel men in a manner which is more entertaining than that of a newcomer, in a parallel role, named Billy de Wolfe. Mr. de Wolfe, with some coaching, might do in an amateur show, but he is definitely a minus quantity in a spot generally filled by Bob Hope.

Indeed, the fact is that none of the picture has the jubilating spirit and dash that should go with an old-time minstrel story. There's a great movie in that subject yet. And Paramount had a nerve to make a picture in which Bing—and he alone—has one hit song...


Thursday, May 19, 2011


Celebrity Invention: Bing Crosby's Window Sash Holder
By Rebecca Greenfield

Some celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: Harry Lillis Crosby a.k.a Bing Crosby

Known For: With his distinct baritone, Bing made his mark as a crooner back when that kind of music was popular. He represents a more wholesome time in American history -- before rock 'n' roll corrupted our youth with talk of sex and drugs.

Invented Apparatus: "Window sash holder"

It's a holder for the string that opens and closes window blinds.

A holder adapted to develop a frictional resistance between a sash and a window frame sufficient to hold the sash in a selected position, but insufficient to prevent the sash from being raised or lowered.

Rationale Behind Invention: We've all struggled with blinds. Those two strings that have the weighted balls at the end don't make sense -- they're testy and always seem to break. Having wrestled with his fair share of window treatments, Bing invented a holder for the sash. The device is designed to stymie any wear and tear on the mechanism and still allow the shades to be drawn:

Most conventional sash windows, and particularly those made of wood, are held in position by counterbalancing mechanisms, such as sash weights housed in the windows, and particularly those made of wood, are held in position by counterbalancing mechanisms, such as sash weights housed in the window frame stricter and connected to the window by sash cords, or preloaded springs housed in the window frame structure and connected to the window by wire cables. Such holders often become inoperative after a long period of use because of failure of the sash of cords or sash cables. The lower sash then will no longer remain open and the upper sash will not stay closed.

Off-Label Uses: Users would probably tie other unruly strings to the holder -- like the one attached to the ceiling fan -- just because, well, who could resist?

Future Directions: During the summer months, figuring out just the right balance between windows open and shades drawn is key to keeping your home cool. You want a nice breeze, but the sun can really heat up a room. Bing should install a temperature control that tells the user the right window/blind combination for optimal comfort.


Monday, May 16, 2011


1939 is often cited as the greatest year for movies of all-time. Some of the most beloved movies like GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ were released in that year. Paramount did not have the output that MGM had in the 1930s, but they did have a secret weapon in the form of Bing Crosby. Even though Bing was not yet considered an Oscar winning actor in 1939, he was making Paramount a lot of money. One of his best movies of 1939 was THE STAR MAKER which was directed by Roy Del Ruth.

The movie is based very loosely on the life of entertainer Gus Edwards. Edwards in the turn of the century discovered such future talent as Eddie Cantor, Walter Winchell, and George Jessel - just to name a few. The names were changed for the film and Bing starred as Larry Earl, an unsuccessful songwriter who decides to settle down with his new bride, Mary (Louise Campbell) and take a 9 to 5 job, only to realize that his true calling is show business. On his way home, he comes across some urchins singing and dancing on the streets for pennies, nickels and dimes, and decides to take these street kids to turn them into professional entertainers. With the assistance of his loving wife, who also contributes to her husband's plans, Larry's troupe of children grows and grows, making the use of their talents in vaudeville and later, after child labor laws step in, presenting them on radio and still succeeding into making them world famous.

When THE STAR MAKER used to make frequent television revivals on the late-late show some 20 years or so ago, TV Guide used to present it in its listing with its brief synopsis as a biography on pioneer showman Gus Edwards. While not really a biography on Edwards, it is probably suggested on the impresario's life and career. As usual, Bing Crosby's pleasing personality, singing and chemistry with the young kids makes this worthy family entertainment.

Louise Campbell (1911-1998) was very likeable in the movie, and she had a huge resemblance to Mary Martin. Campbell was perfect as Crosby's Southern wife. Also there is that deadpan character actor Ned Sparks (1883-1957) playing agent "Speed" King, who not only partakes in Earl's theatrical troupe, but the old grouch must deal with these restless and sometimes rowdy children. Amusing moments include having him surrounded by the kids and reading to them a kiddie story and constantly getting interrupted by questions, and another having Speed finding himself quarantined in a train compartment full of kids for ten days after being exposed with one with the chickenpox.

THE STAR MAKER features a handful of old song standards, many written by Gus Edwards himself, sung mostly by Crosby, including: "Here Comes Jimmy Valentine"; "A Man and His Dream" (nice new song by Johnny Burke and James V. Monaco); "East Side, West Side" (instrumental); "If I Was a Millionaire"; "Go Fly a Kite"; "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?"; "Sunbonnet Sue" (sung by children); "I Can't Tell Why I Love You," "He's Me Pal," "In My Merry Oldsmobile"; Ludwig Von Beethoven's "Symphony # 5 in B Minor" (sung by Linda Ware); "The Darktown Stutters Ball" (sung by Ware); "An Apple For the Teacher"; "School Days"; "The Waltz of the Flowers" by Peter Tchaikovsky (sung by Ware at Carnegie Hall); and "Still the Blue Birds Sing" (new song by Burke and Monaco, sung by Crosby and children). Of all the songs sung in the movie, I think Bing's best number was "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?", which Bing did not record commercially - but a young fellow crooner by the name of Perry Como did.

THE STAR MAKER gives special screen billing to 14-year-old Linda Ware (1925-1975), making her movie debut, possibly Paramount's answer to Universal's singing sensation, Deanna Durbin. A good singer but not a convincing actress, Ware's career sadly didn't go very far after this. Also featured in the cast are Laura Hope Crews, Walter Damrosch as himself; Thurston Hall, Billy Gilbert and a very young Darryl Hickman as one of the dancing kids.

Long on songs and production numbers, and light on plot, THE STAR MAKER, while not as famous and popular as Crosby's other musical flicks, is still worth seeing, and then to sit back to wonder how good the movie itself would have been had it been a bio-pic on Gus Edwards himself, and the use of actual future performers he discovered appearing as themselves in songs and sketches that made them famous. In THE STAR MAKER, Bing was not kissing Vivien Leigh or dancing down the yellow brick road, but his journey in this film was enjoyable nevertheless...

Friday, May 13, 2011


Bing'a Stolen Oscar
By Allan R. Ellenberger

Bing Crosby graduated from Gonzaga High School in Spokane, Washington in 1920 and received an honorary doctorate from Gonzaga University in 1937. Crosby retained an interest for his former school throughout his life and contributed generously to it. Through his efforts the Crosby Library was constructed and dedicated as a memorial to the Crosby family in 1957. The school’s collection is the largest public Crosby collection containing his 1944 Oscar for “Going My Way,” gold and platinum records, trophies and awards, photographs, correspondence, news clippings, radio disks, records and cassettes, and other memorabilia.

One weekend in late April of 1972, Bing’s Oscar was stolen and a three-inch statue of Mickey Mouse was left in its place. Police said that the theft appeared to be a prank since none of the other Crosby memorabilia in display cases was disturbed. The police report at the time valued the gold-plated Oscar at about $75.

The following Friday, the university newspaper ran an interview with an anonymous person who said he carried out the theft because “I wanted to make people laugh.” A few days later, the Oscar was found in the University chapel by a priest and returned to the display case.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Book Highlights High Profile Catholics
By Barbara Stinson Lee

SALT LAKE CITY – "The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War" by writer and historian Anthony Burke Smith, traces such public faces from Bing Crosby to Mel Gibson. Some of them are good and others questionable, from directors John Ford, Leo McCarey and Frank Capra to publisher Henry Luce, who gave special coverage to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

One of the first stars given the best of the care is Bing Crosby, who portrayed Father O’Malley in a series of movies in the 1940s. The character first was seen in his seminary days in Cincinnati, then as a priest who played baseball with the boys in the school to which he was assigned. Fr. O’Malley also carefully sat by the side of his predecessor, played by Barry Fitzgerald. Crosby was one of the first movie-priests who made it possible to bring Catholicism to the big screen.

Crosby was followed by Spencer Tracy, James Cagney and Charles Boyer, among others. "But in addition to the local character of the Catholic experience, Catholicism also increasingly assumed a national, pan-ethnic dimension after World War I," the book states. "The Catholic bishops, for instance, established their own National Catholic Welfare Conference in 1919, an institutional vehicle intended to offer the American hierarchy a collective voice on issues of national importance. Among the most prominent features was its Social Action Department, headed by the Reverend John A Ryan, the noted Catholic social reformer who had written the Bishops’ Program of Social Reconstruction of 1919, an early and far-sighted call for social reforms, including a living wage, the right of workers to organization and a form of Social Security."

McCarey, though Catholic, didn’t emphasize religion in the films he directed. His own early career in movies entailed a stint at Keystone Studios, which was founded by Mack Sennet, an Irish Canadian who migrated to the United States and eventually landed in Los Angeles. McCarey directed Charles Chase in a series of successful slapstick comedies at the Roach Studios, including "His Wooden Wedding" (1925), which allowed him to develop his talents as a comic filmmaker. In 1926, he became vice president of the Roach Operation, overseeing all film production. In this position, McCarey proved instrumental developing the team of Laurel and Hardy. In 1929, he left the Roach Studio and signed a contract with Paramount, so by the time McCarey became a director of feature-length films in the 1930s, he already had years of experience honing his comic skills in a film milieu shaped by ethics and immigrants.

One of the elements this book lacks is a balance between male and female actors. Women like Irene Dunne, Jenny Rise Stevens, Helen Hayes and Loretta Young are mentioned, but they are few, compared to the male actors, producers, directors and scene designers featured in the book. And they are almost always lumped together with one or two other women. It is hard to believe that there was a lack of romances, comedies and just plain funny women to balance the men.



Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong struck up a friendship in the 1920s that flourished as they worked together—for almost half a century—on stage, in movies, and on radio and TV. This week, Gary Giddins, author of Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams-the Early Years, 1903-1940 shares a look into the friendship between Bing and Louis.

In 1929, Bing Crosby was about to become the most famous pop singer in the country. He would score more number one hit records than anyone else in the 20th century—more than Elvis or even the Beatles. In the late 20s, Louis Armstrong's star was on the rise too. His stunning trumpet playing and entertaining vocals were heard by millions on his widely influential recordings. Under the influence of Bing and Louis, pop music became infused with the rhythm and tonality of jazz and blues...

Monday, May 9, 2011


Library of Congress builds the record collection of the century
By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times

About an hour south of Washington, D.C., deep beneath rolling hills near the verdant Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, lies a storehouse filled with bounty. At one time, during the Cold War, that treasure was cash — about $3-billion worth — that the Federal Reserve had socked away inside cinderblock bunkers built to keep an accessible, safe stash of funds in case of nuclear attack. Now what's buried here, however, is cultural rather than financial: The bunkers are a repository containing nearly 100 miles of shelves stacked with some 6 million items: reels of film; kinescopes; videotape and screenplays; magnetic audiotape; wax cylinders; shellac, metal and vinyl discs; wire recordings; paper piano rolls; photographs; manuscripts; and other materials. In short, a century's worth of the nation's musical and cinematic legacy.

This is the Library of Congress' $250-million Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, a 45-acre vault and state-of-the-art preservation and restoration facility on Virginia's Mt. Pony. It's here that a recent donation from Universal Music Group, nearly a quarter-million master recordings by musicians including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby, is now permanently housed. Some staff members busy themselves daily cleaning and gluing fragile 100-year-old films back together; others meticulously vacuum dust from the grooves of ancient 78 rpm discs, which are washed before being transferred to digital files that can be accessed by scholars, musicologists, journalists, filmmakers, musicians and other visitors.

As part of the Library of Congress, this trove is available to anyone, free. But because of the complexities of copyright law, access is restricted to the library's reading rooms in Washington and Culpeper. Library officials, however, are poised to unveil a new program that will significantly expand public access to a big chunk of the library's goods, even if it won't provide carte blanche availability to everything stored there. A news conference is scheduled for Tuesday to announce the details.

The library's main storage facility induces a chill, literally: It's kept at 50 degrees and 35% relative humidity to prevent materials from degrading. It's even frostier at the opposite end of the property in the vault for volatile nitrate film, which is cooled to 35 degrees.

The long hallway also can spark images of the closing scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," although it's not a single airplane hangar-sized room full of crates packed with who-knows-what treasures. Instead, the second-floor hallway leads past 17 vaults, each of which yields shelf after shelf filled with platters of vinyl, shellac or wax or magnetic tape in various formats: open reel as well as audiocassettes, four- and eight-track tape cartridges and digital audiotapes. There also are a good number of vintage wax cylinders as well as metal master discs.

The breadth of the library's stock is impossible to summarize. But in addition to copies of every published recording registered for protection in recent decades with the U.S. Copyright Office, the library has acquired personal collections from classical music giants such as Leonard Bernstein, composer Aaron Copland and pianist Wanda Landowska, in some cases including never-released test pressings, as well as every 78 rpm disc recorded by jazz titan Jelly Roll Morton.

It possesses tens of thousands of lacquer discs from NBC Radio, including the network's complete archive of World War II coverage; documentarian Tony Schwartz's trove of audio recordings from the streets of New York; and half a million LPs, among which are dozens of surf and hot-rod music-themed discs that Capitol Records issued in the '60s to capitalize on those crazes, including "Hot Rod Hootenanny" by Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos, with cover art and songs co-written by fabled car designer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth.

The sound vault is so extensive that when Universal Music Group's gift was announced, Gene DeAnna, who heads the recorded sound section, didn't bat an eye. The new donation, which takes up a mile of linear shelving space, is one of the largest single gifts to the library ever. But it represents only about a 1% expansion of the audio collection, which typically grows by 120,000 to 150,000 items per year, about two-thirds of which is sound recordings. And within are essential recordings of the American experience.

When producers at Sony Music's Legacy division were working on the new box set "Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings: The Centennial Edition," for example, they tapped the library for some metal masters and shellac discs that were better than what the label had in its own archive.

But records and tapes aren't the only musical recordings here. Preservation specialist Larry Miller pulled out some rare wax cylinders about 4 inches in diameter, much larger and thicker than the standard 2-inch cylinders that proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries until flat discs took over.

"Back in those days, there were patent wars," Miller said. "Everyone was trying to not pay money to someone else for use of a particular format." Like the Beta-VHS videotape wars in the '70s and '80s, or the Blu-ray versus HD-DVD battles more recently. "It was a higher fidelity version and had longer playing time too," DeAnna said. "It was kind of like the Blu-ray of its day."

Universal's donation upped the total 2010 acquisition for the recorded sound division to more than 300,000 items. The final truckload of recordings that had long been housed in Universal's vault in Pennsylvania was scheduled to arrive in Culpeper on Wednesday.

The question is how many people will have access to it.

Beyond the library's mission of physical conservation and restoration of its vast archive, providing public access to it is both a driving goal and key hurdle these days. Physically converting aging films or recordings to contemporary playback media is a breeze compared with navigating the copyright clearances that would permit broad access.

It's a byproduct of copyright law, which characteristically lags several steps behind changes in technology. This reality is particularly challenging when it comes to music: Although music compositions have been under the purview of federal copyright law since 1831, sound recordings didn't get that protection until 1972. Before that, ownership of recordings was determined by state and common law — something the 1972 federal law didn't change.

And there's the rub for DeAnna. The shift to digital technology that makes streaming access possible will inevitably push the boundaries of current copyright law. Deanna added that, if nothing else, academia should have access to the music.

Reporting from Culpeper, Va.— "We should be able to have Internet streaming access on secure sites — and more than one, not just our reading room," he said. "We should have partnerships with universities around the country — we should have at least that" ability to allow researchers and students remote use of the library's materials.

Matthew Barton, the recorded sound section curator, points out: "Anything else from before 1923 — a book, a movie, a published song, sheet music — is public domain now." Not so for the music in that same time period, and as a result, many recordings, even those that have been digitized, can't legally travel beyond the library's walls unless a morass of ownership issues can be unraveled. "The whole idea of copyright," DeAnna said, "is that eventually it does become public domain."

DeAnna points to so-called orphan works, for which the rights holders are not readily identifiable, as evidence of the confusion. A prime example is the Savory Collection of nearly 1,000 live recordings made by recording engineer William Savory in the late '30s, discs now residing with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. They encompass previously unknown extended performances by such musical luminaries captured in their prime as Ellington, Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, Artie Shaw and Chick Webb.

Museum director Loren Schoenberg said, "My goal is to have all of it, every last second of it, available on the Internet. If it was up to me, I'd just throw it on the Internet, let everybody sue each other and happy new year. But you can't do that, because you're dealing with [musicians'] estates, labels, record companies and publishers."

A proposal that Congress bring all pre-1972 sound recordings under federal copyright law is in the public comments stage.

"There's a considerable body of sound that could come under orphan work legislation if it was controlled by federal copyright law," DeAnna said.

"It seems to me not to have worked taking all this century's sound recordings off of our soundscape," DeAnna said.

Indeed, according to a 2005 survey conducted for the library's National Recording Preservation Board, of 1,521 recordings made from 1890 to 1964, only 14% has been made available to the public.

Before the Packard Campus was built, the Library of Congress' collection was scattered among seven storage sites across four states and the District of Columbia.

But in 1997, Congress approved a public-private partnership that, in exchange for an initial $10-million grant, transferred the former Federal Reserve facility, which had been decommissioned four years earlier, to the Packard Humanities Institute, a private organization spearheaded by David Woodley Packard, the son of Hewlett-Packard cofounder David Packard.

Upon completion of the $150-million construction project, Packard donated the buildings back to the Library of Congress in July 2007, making it the largest private gift to the U.S. legislative branch and one of the largest ever to the federal government.

Congress has kicked in about $90 million for equipment, staffing and other costs of opening and operating the facility, which consists of four main components: the three-story conservation building with staff offices and film and audio preservation labs; two underground vaults for safety film, video, sound recordings and nitrate films; and a central plant that houses equipment to maintain temperature and humidity in the vaults.

Members of the public can listen to virtually anything from the audio collection already converted to a digital file on demand at the library's offices on Capitol Hill.

Whether a curious researcher will actually be able to play back what's stored in the vaults depends not only on copyright law, though, but also on the format.

"I love to give the example that the cylinder from 1900 may be easier to play back than the DAT [digital audiotape] from 2001," sound curator Barton said. "Seriously. There are a lot of DATs that just won't play now."

The most enduring formats? Not CDs or MP3 digital files.

"Vinyl discs properly stored will last hundreds of years," Miller said. "Shellac too."

Producer T Bone Burnett, a vocal champion of analog vinyl over digital audio, visited the library not long ago to discuss the issue. "He testified in front of us and said, 'I would encourage the Library of Congress to preserve to vinyl,'" DeAnna recalled. "We all kind of leaned forward, and my colleague said, 'So, Mr. Burnett are you preserving your own collection to vinyl?' He said, 'Nah, I'm doing all digital.'"


Friday, May 6, 2011


The best seat in the house at Del Mar racetrack, 20 miles north of San Diego, is a wooden bench inside the clubhouse gate, under a shade tree and beside a gurgling fountain. That's where I found the former jockey Larry Gilligan one Thursday afternoon. His hands folded across a well-tailored sport jacket, he'd settled in to watch a parade of women, young and old, glide past in their summer finest. Equally resplendent (though less meaningful to Gilligan) were the gentlemen in suit jackets and colorful ties walking beside them, for the track's Turf Club is perhaps the only restaurant in all of Southern California where semiformal attire is required to get lunch.

Del Mar's seven-week meeting each July to September won't usually feature the nation's tip-top horses or jockeys; those are camped out across the country in Saratoga Springs, New York, where the milling crowds are postmillennium sloppy in T-shirts and shorts. It doesn't attract the most fervent gamblers, who favor Hollywood Park up the freeway, if not the glow of a computer screen in their basement. But Del Mar is one of the few tracks left where horse racing still feels glamorous.

Del Mar's grandstand was rebuilt in the early 1990s and amenities have been updated since, but the track has the same enticing languor—a sense that, as the late racing publicist Eddie Read put it, "nobody is in a hurry but the horses"—as it did when cofounder Bing Crosby, wearing a yachtsman's cap and smoking his trademark pipe, opened its gates in 1937. "I find the experience incomparable," says Andrew Beyer, the Washington Post's turf writer, who can't resist the occasional cross-country jaunt for a week beneath the palm trees. "I love the weather, the beautiful women, the comfort of the grandstand. There's just nowhere more fun to spend a day at the races."

Plenty of racing fans seem to share Beyer's sentiments. Despite the sport's drooping ticket sales, Del Mar's attendance has grown by 25 percent over the past decade. Last summer's Opening Day crowd of 45,309 was its largest in history, and throngs of more than 30,000 are not uncommon on weekends. Even then, it still manages to feel more like someone's fabulous outdoor wedding reception than a typical sports event. "It's an aura that these people bring with them," says Trevor Denman, who has served as the track announcer at Del Mar for more than a quarter-century. "The majority are on vacation, and they have this happy atmosphere about them. It's totally different from any other racetrack."

Del Mar's executives believe they've engineered this miraculous popularity with modern marketing, a Friday concert series that attracts a younger demographic, signature drinks, all of that. I'm not so sure. Plenty of storied tracks haven taken a similar approach of promoting everything but the actual racing, yet apart from events such as the Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup, attendance at many of them remains in a death spiral. One problem is that wagering, which once required actually showing up at the betting window, has become too accessible. Notes Beyer: "When you can watch the races live from your living room and bang in your bets on the computer, the convenience is much more desirable than the hassle and expense of going out to the track."

It takes a special ambience to overcome that. Standing by the immaculate grass oval of Del Mar's paddock on a perfect summer afternoon, I couldn't help but think that nothing sells horse racing so much as the horses. Every one that strutted past seemed ready to step on the track and challenge Seabiscuit (who nosed out Ligaroti in a 1938 winner-take-all race here that captivated a live national radio audience). "The good ones know they're good," says Denman. "They seem to say, 'Let me loose, I'll show you what I can do.' When you see that in an athlete, whether an animal or a man, it's an amazing thing." And when you don't have to worry about whether they're secretly on steroids, or cringe when they fumble their way through a Gatorade ad, it's that much better.

In fact, much about my two-day visit reminded me of the way sports used to be, before excessive packaging and special effects made the experience of attending an event feel very much like watching it on television, only in less comfortable chairs. Part of that is the nature of horse racing, but a lot is the nature of Del Mar. Ad signage is kept to a discreet minimum. And it doesn't hurt that people dress up. It reminded me of black-and-white photos of baseball crowds from the '40s, or the scene in Billy Bathgate when the surpassingly elegant Nicole Kidman visits Saratoga.

Instead of the pounding beat of Megadeth, or whatever it is that blasts from the sound systems in stadiums and arenas these days, I almost felt like I could hear Crosby crooning off in the distance. Wait, it actually was Crosby. The track begins each racing day with his reedy rendition of its iconic theme. "There's a smile on every face, and a winner in each race," he sings, "where the turf meets the surf at Del Mar."


Thursday, May 5, 2011


After the Bing Crosby marathon earlier this week, I was hoping TCM would be showing a lot more Bing in the summer. Not much going on in June or July, but a little Bing is better than no Bing at all.

Reportedly, TCM will be showing more Universal/Paramount movies this year, so I am hopeful different Bing items will be shown, but here is what we have so far to start out the summer:


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


It is nice to see that Bing still gets mentioned 108 years after his birth. The mention is short, but it is still nice to see. Happy birthday Bing!

Today in Music History - May 3

In 1903, singer and actor Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma, Wash. He sang with dance bands from 1925 to 1930, and in 1931 began work in radio and films. Crosby gained enormous popularity for his crooning style, which was ideal to the new radio medium. His recording of "White Christmas" was the best-selling record of all time until Elton John's tribute to the late Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind 1997." In 1944, he won an Academy Award for his performance in "Going My Way." His other notable films included "The Country Girl" in '54, "High Society" in '56 and the remake of "Stagecoach" in '65. Crosby, who had a lifelong love affair with golf, died in 1977 after a round of golf in Spain.


Sunday, May 1, 2011


It's going to be a day early, but TCM is honoring Bing on his 108th birthday with a marathon of his movies, and well as a short Bing did in 1957. It is going to be a terrfic day of Bing tomorrow...

MAY 2:
Bing Crosby urges the audience to donate to the Jimmy Fund to end childhood cancer.

8:30 AM Going Hollywood (1933)
A girl poses as a French maid to catch a singing star.

10:00 AM Road to Singapore (1940)
A runaway tycoon and his sailor buddy try to con their way through the

11:30 AM Road to Zanzibar (1941)
A lady con artist scams two out-of-work entertainers into financing a safari.

1:15 PM Road to Morocco (1942)
Two castaways get mixed up in an Arabian nightmare when they're caught between a bandit chief and a beautiful princess.

2:45 PM Going My Way (1944)
A young priest revitalizes a failing parish and brings new life to the elder priest.

5:00 PM Blue Skies (1946)
Vaudeville partners spend years vying for the same beautiful woman.