Q: Bing Crosby is one of my all-time favorite singers. How’d he get the nickname “Bing”?
A: Harry Lillis Crosby was born the fourth of seven children to Catherine Harrigan and Harry Lowe Crosby on May 3, 1903, in Tacoma, Washington.
When he was 6, his 15-year old neighbor, Valentine Hobart, gave him the nickname that stuck with him the rest of his life. At the time, many newspapers around the country ran a weekly syndicated humor feature in their Sunday editions that was written and drawn by Clyde “Newton” Newkirk and E. Strandman. The comic strip-like feature, called the “Bingville Bugle,” was made to appear as though it were the front page of a hillbilly newspaper that chronicled life in the little town of Bingville.
One of the feature’s characters, Bingo, was pear-shaped with bulging ears, not unlike the young Crosby. Hobart affectionately started calling Crosby “Bingo from Bingville.” Before too long, the nickname was shortened to just “Bing.”
Although he grew up in a house with music, he almost embarked on a career in the law. He enrolled in Gonzaga University thinking he would study law. However, he ordered a set of drums through a catalog and became adept enough to join a local band. He quit school just months before graduating to pursue what would become a lifetime in music.
Crosby, of course, went on to become one of the most influential singers of the 20th century with over 500 million records sold. Although the way sales and chartings were accounted changed throughout his career, his official statistics are nonetheless impressive. He had 41 No. 1 hits and 383 charting singles, including an unbroken stretch between 1931 and 1957. He was also a very shrewd businessman and entrepreneur, becoming an early adoptee of using magnetic tape instead of acetate coated aluminum disks. This enabled him to pre-record high quality shows that otherwise would have had to have been performed live.
Q: I recently heard that an urn containing gold coins dating back to 5th century Rome was recently unearthed. It immediately brought to mind that old cartoon about the singing and dancing frog that was found in a time capsule buried in the cornerstone of a building. What was the name of the song the frog sang, and can you tell me about the singer who voiced the frog?
A: Who could ever forget that marvelous 1955 Merrie Melodies cartoon, “One Froggy Evening,” where the only character who spoke was the frog, and then only in song and only for the person who found him?
Although the frog sings several different songs in the cartoon, the one we most remember is “Hello! Ma Baby,” a vaudeville song written in 1899 by the Tin Pan Alley husband and wife songwriting team, Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson.
While uncredited in the original cartoon, Bill Roberts, a nightclub singer from Los Angeles, has since been identified as the voice of the frog. The frog, too, went unnamed until the 1970s, when director Chuck Jones began referring to him as “Michigan Frog,” after the title of the song “Michigan Rag,” which Jones co-wrote for the cartoon with Michael Maltese and Milt Franklyn.
Jones later added the middle initial “J.” to the frog’s name in honor of writer and film critic, Jay Cocks, who interviewed Jones for a story. More recently, the frog has been voiced by American actor Jeff McCarthy. In 1995, Michigan J. Frog made a return appearance in “Another Froggy Evening.” He was also the official mascot of the WB Television Network from1995 until its demise in 2006.
What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums, and the musicians who make them to MusicOnTheRecord@gmail.com. Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, N.C.