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Bing entered Gonzaga College in Spokane in the fall of 1920 with the intent of becoming a lawyer. While in Gonzaga he bought a set of mail-order bass drums. Soon Bing was good enough on the drums that he was invited to join a local band composed mostly of high school kids called The Musicaladers, managed by Al Rinker (shown in the photo with Bing). Bing beat the drums and sang with the band in the Spokane area for more than a year. He made so much money with the band that he decided to drop out of college his senior year and concentrate on a career in music. The Musicaladers fell apart at the end of summer, 1925, when several of its members went away to college. A couple months later, in October, Bing and Al piled into Rinker's Model T and left Spokane for Los Angeles where they would seek the help of Rinker's sister, the jazz singer Mildred Bailey, to get into show business. Within 3 weeks after their arrival in L.A. they joined the vaudeville circuit, singing in movie theatres throughout California.
In the 1920s Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) led the most popular band in America. Whiteman (shown in the photo with Bing) heard Crosby and Rinker while they were singing at the Metropolitan Theatre in Los Angeles and hired them to join his band at $150 a week for each. After fulfilling their contractual obligations in California, the boys made their debut with the Whiteman Orchestra at the Tivoli Theater in Chicago in December 1926. There Bing began studying music with some of the greatest musicians of the era: Bix Beiderbecke, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti and jazz guitarist Eddie Lang.
The Rhythm Boys – Bing’s Early Collaborations
Whiteman's orchestra opened at the Paramount Theatre on Times Square in New York in January 1927. Audiences at the Paramount did not respond well to Bing and Al. The theatre did not yet have electronic amplification, and the audience may have had difficulty hearing Crosby and Rinker's vocals. Whiteman removed them from the show. Matty Malneck, a violinist within the Whiteman Orchestra, offered his help and arranged for Al and Bing to be teamed with a third vocalist, Harry Barris (shown on the right in the photo). Barris (1905-1962) had written a song called "Mississippi Mud," and with the help of Malneck they turned it into a hit. Crosby returned to the Whiteman Orchestra in March as part of a trio called "The Rhythm Boys."
John Scott Trotter
Bing's musical director during his hey-day was an easy-going mountain of a man, John Scott Trotter. Trotter weighed in at 12 pounds when he was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1908. As an adult he weighed nearly 300 pounds. Trotter's professional music career began at the University of North Carolina in 1925 when he became pianist and arranger for a college band led by Hal Kemp. Trotter's chance for national fame came 12 years later in 1937. Bing was hosting the Kraft Music Hall with Jimmy Dorsey conducting the orchestra. Kraft insisted that the show include a concert spot of classical music, and Dorsey was having difficulty delivering an acceptable product. He gracefully left the show. In searching for a new musical director, Crosby asked his songwriter friend, Johnny Burke, about the arranger for singer Skinnay Ennis of the Hal Kemp Orchestra. Burke told him "John Scott Trotter." Crosby said "Get him."
Trotter was tracked down in New York and offered the job as Crosby's orchestra leader. Trotter accepted, and took over for Dorsey on the 8 July 1937 broadcast. Soon he was arranging and conducting for Crosby's Decca recordings as well. Their first Decca session was the up-tempo It's the Natural Thing to Do, recorded July 12, 1937.
Carroll Carroll, chief writer on the Kraft show, recalled Trotter's massive volume and appetite:
Trotter arranged and conducted for Crosby for 17 years. During that time several members of his orchestra went on to greater fame. Jerry Colonna (1905-86) was Trotter's trombonist when his comedic skills were discovered. While playfully singing "On the Road to Mandalay" with Trotter at the organ, Colonna began on a high note reminiscent of an air raid siren and went up from there. The next week he was featured as the guest 'concert star' on the Kraft show. Soon Colonna joined Bob Hope's radio show as his comedy side-kick.
Trotter hired Spike Jones (1911-65) in 1937 to beat the drums in his orchestra. Jones became a celebrity during World War II when he moonlighted on a novelty song called "Der Fuhrer's Face." The song became such a hit that Jones left the Trotter orchestra late in 1942 to make a career for himself as conductor of a not-so-serious band, the City Slickers. Jones' raucous sound was invented by Trotter's orchestra to accompany (and cover) the dischordant notes of comedian Bob Burns on the bazooka. Later Jones and his City Slickers returned as guests on the Crosby show. After the City Slickers accompanied Bing on a song, Crosby was heard to say, "John Scott, don't ever leave me!"
Trotter remained as Crosby's musical director until 1954. Their last recording together was "In the Good Old Summertime" in May. That summer Bing decided to end his big-budget radio variety show and with it went his need for a full-time musical director. Bing wrote Trotter on Sept. 9: "I certainly hate to see the wonderful organization we have break up, and it gives me a wrench to be an instrument in its dissolution. I shall never forget all the good years you and I had together, and all the wonderful unselfish things you did for me and my interests. You had a great deal to put up with at times, and your patience and forbearance was always incredible. You must know how grateful I am to you for everything that you have done."
Trotter moved on to television, becoming musical director for the George Gobel show from 1954-60. He worked again as musical director for Bing on Bing's 1964-65 ABC sitcom, The Bing Crosby Show. Later he directed the music for the Charlie Brown cartoon specials. In 1970 Trotter was nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy for his musical score for the movie "A Boy Named Charlie Brown."
Bing once said of Trotter, "I'm not musically educated enough to really describe what he was in music terms. I just knew he was very good and he had marvelous taste."
Trotter died of cancer October 30, 1975, a month after arranging a Boston Pops special for PBS.
Collections of Christmas Carols & Poetry
Other Books by Doug Anderson
A Psalter – A Book of the Psalms Arranged by Luther's Categories
Betbüchlein: A Personal Prayer Book, a recreation of Luther's 1529 prayer book
Luther's Writings on Prayer: A Selection
Devotions for the Advent – 2009
The Lenten Sermons of Martin Luther, Second Edition
Descriptions of all these volumes can be seen at
Christmas is a wonderful, cheerful holiday. Whether we spend it by a real tree or some Balsam Hill artificial Christmas trees, at the end of the day what matters is that we enjoy our time together with our loved ones.
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