cover image Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star—The War Years, 1940–1946

Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star—The War Years, 1940–1946

Gary Giddins. Little, Brown, $40 (736p) ISBN 978-0-316-88792-2

The legendary crooner segues from edgy jazz singer to national paterfamilias in the second volume of Giddins’s scintillating biography. Jazz journalist and scholar Giddins (Satchmo) revisits the WWII era, when Bing Crosby was at the height of his popularity with a radio show, chart-topping records like “White Christmas” (still the world’s all-time bestselling single), a string of hit movies from the cutup comedy Road to Morocco to his classic turn as Father O’Malley in Going My Way. He also performed at innumerable USO gigs for the troops, including a show on the frontline during which his audience was called away to repel a German attack. He became, Giddins argues, a new paradigm of American masculinity: manly, down-to-earth, easygoing, unflappable, and a comfortably reassuring pillar of faith and family in chaotic times. (Crosby hid the dysfunctions in his own family, including his wife’s alcoholism and depression and his own harsh parenting style, which featured occasional beatings of his sons with a metal-studded leather belt.) Giddins packs exhaustive research and detail into his sprawling narrative while keeping the prose relaxed and vivid, and sprinkles in shrewd critical assessments of Crosby’s music and films. Crosby emerges as an aloof, cool cat, and Giddins’s engrossing show-biz bio richly recreates the popular culture he helped define. (Nov.)