10 Things You Should Know About Paul Whiteman

Here are 10 things you should know about Paul Whiteman, born 129 years ago today. Known as the King of Jazz during his heyday, Whiteman isn’t afforded that level of respect by many today, but his influence is undeniable. His music may have leaned to the pop side, but in that era, jazz was dance music, so it was pop, in a sense, and Whiteman helped to bring the new sounds to a wider audience.

The King of Jazz Returns

The musical was a popular genre in the very early days of talkies, but the moviegoing public quickly (if briefly) lost interest in singing pictures.

One movie that fell victim to that disinterest was King of Jazz (1930), a lavish musical-comedy revue that featured Paul Whiteman‘s orchestra delivering an assortment of musical numbers with comedic sketches interspersed throughout.

King of Jazz, made for Universal Pictures, was filmed entirely in an early, two-color version of Technicolor and featured actors and performers such as the Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris, don’t you know), John Boles, Laura La Plante, Slim Summerville, Walter Brennan, jazz legends Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, and the Russell Markert Dancers (who would soon become the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes).

King of Jazz was not a money-maker, and a revamped version released a few years later did no better, so it might well have fallen into obscurity and been forgotten, but over the decades, interest in the film increased. In 2013, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, and in 2018, a spectacular restoration of the film was screened in a few locations across the country and around the world.

We were present for the restoration’s premiere in New York City, and it proved to be a terribly exciting event. The buzz in the theatre was palpable and the film, which had been beautifully restored, received cheers from the packed house throughout the screening.

We’re pleased to share the exciting news that Turner Classic Movies is airing this acclaimed restoration on Monday, March 4, at 8 p.m. ET. If you listen to Cladrite Radio with any regularity, this one’s right up your alley. We’re calling it a don’t-miss.

To give you an idea what to expect, here’s a clip from the film of a performance of George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue.

Happy 114th Birthday, Bing Crosby!

Crooner-actor-comedian-show biz immortal Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby was born 114 years ago today (or thereabouts—there’s some debate about the actual date, though the date now most widely agreed upon is May 3) in Tacoma, Washington. Here are 10 BC Did-You-Knows:

  • A true middle child, Crosby was the fourth of seven children. His father, a bookkeeper, was of English descent and his mother was a second-generation Irish-American. The family relocated to Spokane, Washington, when Crosby was three. When Crosby was seven, a neighbor, inspired by the Bingville Bugle, a popular humor feature in the Sunday edition of Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, nicknamed him “Bingo from Bingville.” The name stuck (though the -o was soon dropped).
  • Crosby attended Gonzaga University for three years, playing on the school’s baseball team as a freshman. He never graduated, but in 1937, the university gave him the benefit of the doubt, awarding him an honorary degree.
  • At 20, Crosby was asked to join a group of younger musicians in forming a combo called the Musicaladers (as to how that name was pronounced, your guess is as good as ours). One of the members of that group was Al Rinker, brother to Mildred Bailey, who would go on to great success as a jazz and swing vocalist.
  • In 1925, Crosby and Rinker headed for Los Angeles, where Bailey’s show-biz contacts helped them find work. They were eventually hired by the star-making orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. During a stint in New York City, the pair’s prospects were bolstered by the addition of pianist and songwriter Harry Barris. They became known as the Rhythm Boys and their collective star was on the ascent.
  • Extensive touring with the Whiteman organization allowed the Rhythm Boys to hone their skills and they became stars in their own right, with Bing being singled out for solo work on record and over the radio airwaves. They soon left the Whiteman group and signed on with Gus Arnheim, whose orchestra was featured nightly at the Cocoanut Grove night club at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel.
  • Bing Crosby was increasingly the focus of the act and he eventually made the logical move toward being a solo performer. Both his recordings and his radio program became huge successes. Crosby performed on 10 of the most popular 50 recordings of 1931. He began in films making shorts for Mack Sennett and his first feature-length picture, The Big Broadcast (1932), made him all the more successful. He would be a top recording, radio and motion picture star throughout the 1930s and ’40s and in the 1950s, he conquered television, too.
  • From the 1940s to the 1960s, Crosby was a minority owner (15%) of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
  • Crosby was the first choice to portray Lieutenant Columbo on the popular television series Columbo. After Crosby declined, he role eventually went to Peter Falk.
  • It could be said that, as Elvis Presley was to rock ‘n’ roll, Crosby was to jazz. He was one of the first—and certainly the most popular—white vocalists to embrace the new form of music. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong was an admirer of Crosby, describing his voice as being “like gold being poured out of a cup.”
  • Crosby notched 38 No. 1 singles over the course of his career, topping even Presley and the Beatles in the category.

Happy birthday, Bing Crosby, wherever you may be!

Bing Crosby