American Heritage Drivel

David Robbins posted 12/02/05 04:08 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
The other day I was reading Arne's reaction to criticism of Jerry Lewis and I have to admit, I was thinking, "poor Arne has gone over the top."
Arne, my apologies. "American Heritage," just printed absolute poppycock about Bing Crosby being an overrated singer and Russ Columbo being underrated. I fired off the following. I should have submitted it here first to the real experts, or at least checked my spelling. Some of my stats might be a little off, but it was an act of passion. Perhaps a few follow ups from you guys would be in order. Anyway, it's reproduced below:

Crosby Overrated?

Dear American Heritage:

I just received a notice that my subscription is about to expire. I can hardly wait. It's a great shame that drivel is peddled as History. Mark Rotella's allegation that Bing Crosby was overrated and Russ Columbo was underrated has absolutely no basis in reality. I refer you to Gary Giddens scholarly, extensive first Volume of Bing Crosby's career, "A Pocketful of Dreams." I can also refer you to just about anyone who has ever made music a profession. Russ Columbo was propped up by the so called, "Battle of the Baritones," but look at the numbers. Listen to the songs. That's all you need to know and you will realize that Mr. Rotella is standing in quicksand. Columbo was ok for his day but his output had a dreary sameness to it. He may have been popular with a number of ladies for his good looks, but what does this have to do with musical heritage? As a historical journal it is your responsibility to check outrageous claims made by the no nothing you've submitted as a so called expert. Listen to "Prisoner of Love," by Columbo. For it's day it is ok but overall: BORING. Crosby was never boring. During the same period his output cannot be compared to anyone else. Over the years he evolved into three or four completely different stages depending on what he had left vocally. Each stage could stand on its own. Columbo never had a mega-hit. Crosby is the number one best selling singer of all time. He had more charted hits than Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles combined. He lasted as one of the top ten performers for over twenty years. He was number one box office actor for five years running. Columbo had one feature length film before his death and it was: BORING. See Crosby's early film output: There was absolutely no one who could touch him. Louie Armstrong called him either "Daddy" or "Poppa Bing," but not because he had so many children. Granted, his time has passed. Music is a fickle business but no one has ever touched either the quality or quantity of his output. Saying Columbo would have surpassed him if only he had lived assumes a lot. You need to check your sources for historical quackery. Where do you find this writer: Entertainment Tonight? I'm happy you printed this article before I sent in my renewal. My subscription is History.
Arne posted 12/02/05 05:35 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
David, an admirable effort. If I had known about this and contributed a letter, about the only thing I would do differently would be to spend a little less time describing what is or isn't "boring", which, after all, remains a value judgement within the eye and ear of the beholder. Instead, I might simply offer the fact that Columbo was in the Arnheim orchestra, where he latched on the the singing style originated by Crosby. Also, the fact that most music critics agree upon should be included: - that Columbo was strictly a baladeer,and didn't possess Crosby's versatility, particularly his jazz chops (the lack of which would surely have sunk Columbo if he'd survived into the swing era). Your stating of the statistics regarding Bing's tremendous advantage over Columbo, re: popularity during COLUMBO'S LIFETIME is important and effective. I hope the publishers take note.

Interesting to note that this same magazine went with Gary Giddins' assertion that Bing himself was the 20th Century's most "underrated singer" back in 1999!

"Over-The-Top" Arne
Ronald Sarbo posted 12/02/05 08:41 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
At the Player's Club Tribute to Bing I started to say to Gary Giddins "If Russ Colombo had lived..." and Gary finished the sentence with "today he would be forgotten".

Kidding aside I read the article in American Heritage and note that the author Mark Rotella is writing a book on "Great Italian-American Pop Singers".

His premise in the article is that Russ; ALONG WITH Bing, influenced the next wave of crooners who were predominately Italian-American. That they "saw" Russ as more "overtly romantic" than Bing and felt more "kinship" with him.

The over-rated/under-rated premise was uncalled for.

It is comparing a "cult" following to a "mass" following.
Don Lamb posted 12/03/05 08:56 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I'm with Ron on this one. I too read the article and was completely unoffended by it. It was written by an Italian-American who is writing a book about the great Italian crooners, so waddaya expect? He was mainly lamenting the fact that Columbo today is virtually unknown and completely forgotten. Actually, the article does not contain so much as a negative word about Crosby, but in fact is quite complimentary toward Bing, except that the author considers Columbo more "romantic."
Bob Handy posted 12/04/05 09:26 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
A question for those of you who have read the American Heritage article: Did the writer have any comment on the fact that the two most successful Italian-American popular singers, Sinatra and Como, seem to have drawn their inspiration, not from Italian-American Columbo, but from Irish-American Crosby? Just curious.
pat bonner posted 12/04/05 11:30 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Bing not as romantic as Russ? I recall my dad, God bless him, recounting that, back in 31 or 32, he happened on some girl he knew, with her arms wrapped around the radio, listening to Bing singing some torch song of the day.
David Lobosco posted 12/04/05 12:01 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
My grandmother, who was a girl in the 1930s, says that Bing Crosby was THE romantic singer in that era. Russ Columbo was more of a "pretty boy" than Bing Crosby, but not more romantic. I would put Russ Columbo is the same category as maybe Tony Martin.
ceallaigh posted 12/04/05 04:48 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I'm 32 years old and I'm sorry but Bing is the only one that can sing me into weakness.....not Sinatra, not Como, just Bing.
Carmela posted 12/04/05 07:38 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
I always felt Bing had the Most Romantic voice ever. I also think that Bing and Perry were the best looking as young men and had a magnetism about them. I would say all of the above singers mentioned were Great. I hate when people favor someone just because they are of the same nationality and not for the right reasons. I'm Italian-American with a little touch of German and the four people I collect on are not the same nationality as me.
David Robbins posted 12/05/05 12:03 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
The letter was an impulsive act of passion. There are a number of things I would change if I were to re-write it. At the very least I wish I'd gotten the spelling of Mr. Giddins name right. Arne, your letter can still go. It's a definite improvement. Ronald, just send your first sentence. It says it all. My response was too wordy and over the top. The notion that Columbo was superior to Crosby in any category just seemed so wrong that it set me off.
Don Lamb posted 12/05/05 08:25 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
To answer Bob Handy's question, here's what Mark Rotella says in the article: "Russ Columbo inspired Sinatra, Perry Como, Jerry Vale, and Mario Lanza just as much as Crosby did. He possessed the Italian sense of romance."
Rotella offers no proof or corroboration for this assertion; he just says it.
The "Overrated/Underrated" articles are an annual feature of this magazine and are intended to stir up controversy and debate. Gary Giddens claims to have gotten a ton of hate mail when he declared Barbra Streisand overrated and set forth his reasons to back up this assertion.
After declaring Crosby "overrated," Rotella's article goes on to undermine its own premise. He admits that Crosby was the innovator and Columbo was essentially a rip-off of Crosby's style, for example, but then speculates that Columbo might have found a style of his own had he lived longer. He also concedes Crosty's ability to sing with authenticity across many musical genres, while admitting Columbo's inability to "swing." His sole point is that Columbo, with his Rudolph Valentino good looks and his smarmy (my word, not his) vocal style was more "romantic" than Bing -- a point which was as highly debatable then as now.
Candace Scott posted 12/07/05 10:17 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
American Heritage has no credibility since they claimed back in 2001 that Bing was the most underrated singer of the 20th century. Seems they've changed their mind.

It's obvious the author of this "drivel" (good word) is merely trying to make a name for himself and in the process exposes himself as an ass. Anyone who has ever heard Bing Crosby sing knows he possessed an incredible voice.

Russ Columbo? Give me a break!
Bob Handy posted 12/07/05 09:20 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Candace, I don't think the credibility of American Heritage is an issue here. As Don Lamb pointed out, the "Overrated/Underrated" feature has appeared annually in the magazine for some years. Experts in various fields are invited to offer their candidates for the most overrated and most underrated individuals in their fields and to make a case for their choices.

The expert who in 2001 offered his choices for most overrated and most underrated pop singers was Bing biographer Gary Giddins. It was he, not a writer at American Heritage, who made the claim, for which he offered a compelling case, that Bing was the most underrated singer. (As Don also pointed out, Giddins's choice for most overrated singer was Barbra Streisand. He really blasted her, and in return he was blasted by Streisand fans in outraged letters to the editor. His choice of Bing as the most underrated singer elicited no letters to the editor.)

It seems to me that if American Heritage gives one expert the opportunity to make the case for Bing being an underrated singer (which is, by the way, a compliment, not a negative assessment), we shouldn't take offense when they give another expert the opportunity to make a case for the exact opposite. Bob
Don Lamb posted 12/07/05 10:39 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Candice and Bob, another guest writer in this year's "Overrated/Underrated" feature pronounced George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and James Madison as "overrated." So at least ol' Bing's in pretty good company this year.
Candace Scott posted 12/09/05 10:41 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Bob, when I said that American Heritage has no credibility I mean on this one issue: their annual "overrated and underrated" poll. I've subscribed to the magazine for 20 years and the serious quality of the magazine has gone down the drains in recent years. They focus now more on "pop" issues than genuine, serious historical study, which was their hallmark 30-40 years ago.

I take umbrage that any magazine would print the inanity that Bing Crosby was overrated. It's infuriating. It's like saying the Beatles were overrated. Such things make me truly angry. Russ Columbo's music isn't even available, unless you search far and wide on esoteric CD labels.
Ronald Sarbo posted 12/09/05 01:10 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
The complete recordings of Russ Columbo are available on a 2CD set from Taragon.

The Beatles ARE overrated.

Dean Martin got so sick of hearing Dino Jr. talk about them that he told his son that he would knock "his pallies off the top of the charts". Dean accomplished his goal with "Everybody Loves Somebody".

Perhaps the last real victory of the "Italian-American Crooners" in Popular Music.
Arne posted 12/09/05 05:55 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
(here I go again.....)

No, Ron, the Beatles are NOT overrated (at least in the opinion of Yours Truly - to each his own). They have brightened this world beyond calculation for nearly 45 years, and I am enormously thankful for them.
Ronald Sarbo posted 12/09/05 06:53 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
"To Each His Own" was a hit in 1946 by Tony Martin.

Now Tony Martin is underrated. Tony was also greatly influenced by both Bing and RUSS.
Arne posted 12/09/05 10:58 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Tony Martin: The only singer my Dad ever liked as much as he did Bing.

My Dad was in the service with him during WWII for a short time and used to hang out with him and chat in the mess area on a few occasions. I was hoping to deliver a note to him from my Dad at the Bing-Hofstra event in '02, but unfortunately, Martin was too ill to attend. Hope he's doing better these days.
Sue Horn posted 12/10/05 03:54 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Arne, Ron, Candace and everyone, I think Arne hit on something important in his post defending the Beatles. If you think an artist is wonderful and hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves, that artist is underrated for you. The same holds true for any artist that you think is okay, but who has gotten a pile of recognition that you just don't get. The whole underrated/overrated issue is a subjective one, depending on how much you care for the person being qualified in this way. I don't think the Beatles are overrated, but someone else has the right to think so if they've heard one to many obladi obladas in their time. I don't think Elton John is overrated, but there are those who would banish him to the third circle of Dante's inferno for having had a successful single a few years back. Who do I think is overrated? Laurence Olivier was a gifted actor, but I don't think he deserves all the accolades he got. I have found his work dull and mannered at times. Though he is wonderful in "A Little Romance" (a nice feel-good picture with a teenaged Diane Lane, before anyone know who she was). My only point is that I am entitled to my opinion here, as is anyone sho disagrees with me. Vive le difference!! But most of all, long live Bing!!
Candace Scott posted 12/13/05 04:49 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
No the Beatles are not overrated. They are the most influential and greatest group of musicians of the century without any doubt. Whoever would be in second place is a very distant second. This is my opinion, but also supported by vast criticial consensus as well. I wouldn't repeat the canard that they are overrated in any group of well-educated or discerning people. The sarcastic laughter would probably drown out the rest of the evening.

The Beatles are considered the greatest group of all time because they were.
David Robbins posted 12/14/05 05:07 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I seem to have started this series of posts and am sorry I did. I sent my tirade to "American Heritage," and it generated several e-mails back and forth from the Editor, Richard Snow. He evidently answers the comments from irate readers individually. He basically said the same thing that Don Lamb explained above. The Overrated and Underrated feature is a collection of opinion pieces meant to stir up debate and thought among readers. I guess I didn't read the fine print. He recalled the column in 2000 by Gary Giddens and said they lost a number of readers who were also Barbara Streisand fans. He also said he's a big fan of Crosby, listens to him often and that he's currently consulting on a Ken Burns, WWII Documentary that will include lots of great Crosby music. I'm pretty impressed that the Editor takes the time to reason with readers (like me) who sometimes overreact. I've decided not to cancel my subscription and wished Mr. Snow well, knowing that he must be busy answering e-mails from the underrated state of Texas. I think the thing that set me off from the start is in sinc with what Sue and Arne and so many of you have said that opinions are a private matter. I had no problem with Rotella's defense of Russ Columbo. I was merely exasperated that he felt he had to do it at the expense of poor, dead Bing Crosby? I think we've beat this topic to death. Sue, what do you mean Olivier was overrated? There I go again.
Sue Horn posted 12/15/05 05:13 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
David, I guess my comment about Olivier worked. I was trying to choose someone who is almost universally revered as a top figure in his field (Shakespearean film actor) and show how, in my opinion, he is overrated because he just doesn't walk on water for me. My point is just what you said, any designation of over- or underratedness is purely the opinion of the person who doesn't hold the majority opinion. If you love Olivier, congratulations, you are in good company. I love some selected performances of his, bot many others leave me flat.

On an unrelated note, I am heading off to Colombia tomorrow with my husband and son to spend Christmas and New Years with the South American relatives!! We haven't been as a family since coming to the US almost four years ago, and this will be a wonderful time. Rest assured that 19 years of celebrating with me while I was in the country created a lot of Bing fans, so though much of the conversation will be in Spanish, the background music will be Bing!!

Happy holidays to everyone, and a blessed and prosperous 2006.
Ronald Sarbo posted 12/21/05 07:59 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
"You Call It Madness"; Lenny Kaye's bio of Russ Columbo is now out in paperback.

Kaye quotes from Bing's liner notes to his "Songs I Wish I Had Sung" album: "I am sure if Russ had lived, he would have been a big, big star".
Jon O. posted 12/21/05 08:06 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Bing, characteristically, was being very, very kind.

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