For the first time, HLC Properties Ltd. – the estate of Bing Crosby – has released a series of extremely moving letters sent from Bing Crosby to the families of young soldiers during World War II. Alongside his words of support and reassurance are also handwritten letters to Bing, from those relatives, thanking him for bringing joy and a sense of hope to their beloved sons, husbands and brothers.
Also revealed today is a collection of poignant photographs of Crosby entertaining troops during World War II. These images show Bing giving shows at the front lines, singing to crowds of soldiers in England, France and Belgium, performing on outdoor makeshift stages, usually wearing army fatigues and a cap, and in hospitals, perched on the edge of wounded soldiers’ beds. A rare colour shot shows Bing jotting down notes – most likely the soldier’s parents’ address for a letter.
Robert S. Bader, Vice President of HLC Properties Ltd. explains: “I’ve come to know and understand Bing a bit through archiving his correspondence, 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.”
Although perhaps not publicised as much as other stars, Crosby did more than most to support the war effort. When the request came for performers to entertain the troops, Bing jumped at the chance. These private photos and letters are not only of considerable cultural and historical significance – providing a further understanding into life during the war for both soldier and celebrity – they also reveal something more of Bing’s character.
In a letter typed on ‘Bing Crosby, Hollywood’ headed paper, and dated 10th April 1945, Bing writes “It was a pleasure working for the boys in France and Belgium, in fact, one of the richest experiences of my life”. Even more affecting are letters from Bing letting worried relatives know that he had met their loved ones.
Equally touching are the handwritten letters to Bing from the parents or wives of soldiers. In one dated 5 March 1944, Beth Du Bois (Oakland, CA) says:
“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.”
It was Bing’s recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ – that eternal reminder of home – that resonated especially strongly with those away from their loved ones, and is indeed mentioned in some of the letters. This simple song had a huge impact on the lives of soldiers and their families. On Christmas Day in 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour, Bing introduced the song on his weekly radio broadcast. He then gave a live performance to thousands of G.I.s, many of whom were to lose their lives only a few days later in the Battle of the Bulge. ‘White Christmas’ went on to become the world’s biggest-selling single and – with over 50 million copies sold worldwide and, more recently, achieving over 1.8 billion streams (with an average of 18 million streams on 25th December alone every year) – still is.
Today, Bing Crosby’s long-time record label, Decca, releases a brand new version of ‘White Christmas’ in his memory, with Bing’s original vocals set to beautifully-orchestrated arrangements played by The London Symphony Orchestra. As the public listen to the track that has become synonymous with Christmas, they will do so with a deeper insight into the song as this newly-released archive material tells the story of the effect Crosby’s singing had, and still has, on the world.
‘Bing at Christmas’ with Bing Crosby & The London Symphony Orchestra
is now released on Decca Records