Years ago I found this list by happenstance while thumbing through The Book of Lists (1977 edition) at the library. I copied it down on a scrap of paper that has been inside my copy of Ken Barnes' The Crosby Years for years. I have never seen it reprinted so here it is along with Bing's comment at the end:
The Book of Lists, 1977
Bing Crosby's 10 Favorite Performers of All Time
1. Al Jolson
2. Ethel Waters
3. James Barton
4. Frank Sinatra
5. Lena Horne
6. Louis Armstrong
7. Nat Cole
8. Mel Torme
9. Judy Garland
10. Victor Borge
"These are not listed in order of preference, and include no actors, only performers. I could, of course, list hundreds more." - Bing Crosby
It is an interesting list, and I find it interesting to dissect it in various ways.
It includes three performers who were Bing's influences (Jolson, Waters, Armstrong). Several that were influenced (or probably influenced) by him (Sinatra, Cole, Torme, and probably Horne and Garland at least to some extent).
It includes three female performers (Waters, Horne, Garland) and seven male performers. Four black performers (Waters, Horne, Armstrong, Cole) and six white performers (Jolson, Barton, Sinatra, Torme, Garland, Borge).
Barton and Borge seem to be the odd men out, since all the rest are primarily singers. Barton is a vaudeville performer, dancer and actor (his Wikipedia entry mentions Bing putting him on this list), and Borge a pianist and comedian.
I suppose one could ask where are Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald (of whom Bing said "Man, woman or child, Ella is the greatest of them all."). No doubt these and others would have been on his short list. Perhaps he considered Astaire more of an actor. Primarily Bing seems to have chosen those who would generally be considered the most influential performers in terms of stylistic developments. In fact all but two of the singers (Horne and Torme), have chapters in Henry Pleasants' The Great American Popular Singers (as do Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee).
It is also interesting to note that Horne and Torme went on to have significant revivals in the next few years, Horne with her one woman show "The Lady and Her Music" and Torme with his recordings for Concord Jazz.
Anyway, I thought it was an interesting list, and perhaps there are some who haven't seen it.
Last edited by Jim Determan (24/1/2015 7:55 am)
If you want to list the members of the list with comical as well as musical talent, then I think you have to list at least Garland and Armstrong, along with Borge and Barton. Furthermore, regarding Borge, some of his funniest classic comedy bits had to do with language, and we know that Bing especially loved word-play and languages.
Torme made a wonderful tribute to Bing Crosby CD in that later part of his career.
I guess Bing was really like the rest of us in stating who our Favourites are/were as something or other makes us change our mind ( like a new release by someone pushes another out). Also with a person like Bing he would have to had been careful in making a statement of favourite/ performer. I seem t recall his comments about Ella years before, but then in 1977 Ella may not have been performing so slipped off his list. Ella died in 1996.
Bing would have been 'put on the spot' with such a question.
I agree with you, Ron. I think it is best to think of that list as the first performers that popped into Bing's mind on the day he was asked. Do we know what day/year that was? The album, "Songs I Wish I Had Sung The First Time Around" is kind of like that. If Bing had made the album at a different time of his life, the song selection might have been a bit different. Regrding this list, we don't know if Bing was walking around the very next day saying to himself, I wish I had listed so-and-so and maybe whos-is, too. Darn!
I agree with both Ron and Steve. I think that, when called upon to do something as difficult as listing our favorite something or other, Bing must have said the first few names that came to mind at that particular time. Had he been asked the same question at a different time (and, who knows? he may have been asked this several times throughout his life) he probably would have come up with different answers. In essence, I think that this is an impossible question to answer. For example, I am a huge jazz fan, but if I were called upon to name my ten favorite jazz musicians of all time, I would most definitely answer with a question: "You mean only ten???"
Further to Favourites of Bing. I notice that Mildred Bailey is not mentioned either but she was way up there at one stage.
Although I'm not certain, I believe the list was most likely solicited from Bing by the writers of The Book of Lists, and was something he responded to in writing, not during an interview. The explanatory comment Bing provided seems more like something he would have put in a letter than a spoken comment. So, I also assume the list was contemporary to the time of publication. The Book of Lists was published every few years for a while, sort of like an almanac. 1977 was the first edition.
I agree with Anton, I listen to a wide variety of music, and even picking my favorite artists in one style would be difficult, although generally there would be a few who would have to be on the list, as well as others who would have to be contenders. I'm sure Bing's statement that "I could, of course, name hundreds more," was both an apology to anyone he left off, and a simple statement of fact.
I do think Steve's comment that both Garland and Armstrong had comedic talents is relevant. I had been thinking of the list as primarily a list of singers, with Barton and Borge thrown in. But, although I think of the other eight as first and foremost singers, they were all in a broader sense entertainers who had fairly significant careers in film/stage/TV. This may be telling, as other singers who I think would have been on Bing's short list - Ella Fitzgerald, Mildred Bailey (as Ron pointed out), Connee Boswell, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee (all women, a shame Bing never did the sequel to "Songs I Wish I Had Sung") - despite Clooney's role in White Christmas, were much more limited in terms of film/stage/TV roles. Although Astaire would definitely seem to fit the bill as an entertainer.
While I agree that at different times in his life, and maybe even on different days, the list might have varied somewhat, I think there are some like Jolson and Armstrong, and Sinatra for that matter, who would almost certainly have had to be on Bing's list. Twenty years previously, on "Songs I Wish I Had Sung", Bing pays tribute to Jolson, Armstrong, Cole, and Sinatra, leaving out only Torme, who was really just hitting his stride at that time, among the male vocalists on the later list. Although the list may not be definitive, I don't think it was tossed off casually, Bing has picked top drawer performers (although I have less familiarity with Barton and Borge). And although I can think of others to add to the list, most would be almost exclusively singers as opposed to entertainers, and it would be difficult for me to think of who to drop. And I do find it interesting to know how highly Bing regarded Victor Borge, and someone like James Barton who is scarcely remembered today.
By the way there is a web site that features the list and has links to video of performances by everyone on it: http://stargayzing.com/bing-crosbys-10-favorite-performers-of-all-time/, so you can see James Barton or any of the others you aren't familiar with.
And among the blokes, I think Tony Bennett may have appeared on a list as well. Was Dick Haymes ever mentioned by Bing or Pat Boone? Guess we could guess forever .
I'm sure that if I were ever to compile a list of my "bests" or "favourites" of whatever description, it would differ from the vews I might have held earlier or later, or compiled when in a different mood or be influenced by what I had most recently heard, and so on.
And if you are in the public eye and commit yourself to naming favourites you are bound to offend someone or attract criticism both for your inclusions and exclusions. Possibly that consideration alone would influence your statement, which then becomes "political/diplomatic".
If the question had been asked of Bing a few decades earlier, perhaps Connee Boswell or Patty Andrews may have appeared on the list - surely he wouldn't have recorded so many duets with them if he didn't rate them rather highly?
Always wondered what Bing thought of Jimmy Wakely, "the Bing Crosby of country & western music." Would he have been flattered or annoyed by Mr Wakely's similar vocal stylings? Did he ever go on record with an opinion?