Bing Crosby’s estate, HLC Properties Ltd, has released a series of moving letters that were sent by the world-famous entertainer to the families of young soldiers during World War II. The heartfelt letters of support and reassurance are being seen for the first time and are accompanied by replies from those relatives, thanking him for bringing joy and hope to their sons, husbands and brothers during the conflict.
A collection of poignant photographs of Crosby entertaining troops during the war is also revealed today. They depict Bing giving shows at the front lines; singing to crowds of soldiers in England, France and Belgium; performing on outdoor makeshift stages, usually dressed in army fatigues and a cap, and in hospitals, where he perches on the edge of wounded soldiers’ beds. There’s also a rare colour shot, which shows Bing making notes, likely to be of the address of the soldier’s parents for a letter.
“I’ve come to know and understand Bing a bit through archiving his correspondence,” says Robert S. Bader, vice president of HLC Properties Ltd, “but I was simply overwhelmed when I found a box hidden in the attic of his home in Hillsborough, California. He kept these deeply personal letters in a safe place apart from everything else.
“The letters from the soldiers’ family members are often heartbreaking. These people felt such a deep connection to this man they only knew as a famous entertainer. And he lived up to their faith in him with equally heartfelt letters back to them. He didn’t want any accolades for this. He truly appreciated the sacrifices of these soldiers and their loved ones and was actually grateful for the opportunity to use his celebrity status to offer some small comfort to them.”
Crosby’s work in supporting the war effort was extensive, and he jumped at the chance when performers were asked to entertain the troops. The letters and photographs are not only of great cultural and historical significance, adding to our understanding of life in WWII for both the soldier and the celebrity, but they reveal something more about the star’s character.
“It was a pleasure working for the boys in France and Belgium, in fact, one of the richest experiences of my life,” writes Crosby in a letter on paper headed “Bing Crosby, Hollywood” and dated 10 April 1945. In other correspondence, he lets worried relatives know that he had met their loved ones.
In a letter to Bing dated 5 March 1944, Beth Du Bois of Oakland, California writes: “It gives me a strangely comforting feeling to know that someone whose voice I can hear has so recently talked with my son whom I have not seen for almost two years. It brings them nearer somehow. We mothers of sons in the service are so grateful to you and the many others who bring a touch of home to our boys.”
Crosby’s recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ became a huge favourite during the war, and has continued to be perhaps the most enduring symbol of the season ever since. The song stood as a reminder for soldiers of the home lives they had at least temporarily sacrificed, and is mentioned in some of the letters.
He introduced it on his weekly radio broadcast on Christmas Day, 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Crosby then performed it live for thousands of G.I.s, many of whom lost their lives a matter of days later in the Battle of the Bulge. ‘White Christmas’ went on to become the biggest-selling single in history, with estimated sales of over 50 million copies. In the digital age, it has streams of over 1.8 billion, with an average of 18 million streams each 25 December alone.
A new version of the song is now available on Decca, with Bing’s original version accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra and multi-Grammy-winning vocal group Pentatonix. It’s part of the album Bing At Christmas, released today (22) and featuring all-new orchestral arrangements by the LSO of his perennial holiday favourites. As also reported, Decca has started a search to find members of the public living in the UK whose birth name is Bing Crosby.
Bing At Christmas is out now. Pre-order it here.