Crosby fan sings praise

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Unlike Elvis Presley or John Lennon, whose popularity swelled in the years after their deaths, entertainer Bing Crosby's status seems to have diminished three decades after he died.

Bing Crosby fan Pete Cakanic holds a poster for a Crosby short film in his North Augusta home. Mr. Cakanik said he and his sister listened to Crosby's radio show when they were children.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Bing Crosby fan Pete Cakanic holds a poster for a Crosby short film in his North Augusta home. Mr. Cakanik said he and his sister listened to Crosby's radio show when they were children.

However, Pete Cakanic will mourn the passing of the iconic crooner today, the 30th anniversary of his death.

Many recognize Crosby as the voice behind White Christmas, one of the most popular recordings in entertainment history. For Mr. Cakanic, remembering Crosby for one song is like only remembering Frank Sinatra for Fly Me to the Moon.

"I remember a few years back, Billboard (magazine) did a top singers of the century list and Bing wasn't on there," Mr. Cakanic said. "I can't believe that. How can you ignore someone who meant so much to music?"

Crosby's legacy extends beyond the songs he recorded, Mr. Cakanic said.

"He was the first person to truly master the microphone," he said. "He understood how to make it work and how to use it to enhance his voice. Every singer today owes that to him."

Even a former president is indebted to Crosby, Mr. Cakanic said.

"(Franklin D. Roosevelt) liked the way Bing used his voice, and he learned to use his voice the same way for his fireside chats," he said.

A master of many music genres, Crosby helped to mainstream country music and jazz, Mr. Cakanic said.

"He was great at scat," Mr. Cakanic said. "He was probably the first white singer to use it in his songs."

Mr. Cakanic said many forget that Crosby was an Oscar-winning actor for Going My Way and was nominated three other times for an acting Academy Award and four times for Best Song in film.

"He could do it all," Mr. Cakanic said. "Bing was a master of radio, recording and film.

"At that time, you didn't have superstars or divas, but what he was, in the 1930s and 1940s, could definitely be called a superstar."

In a small study of his North Augusta home, Mr. Cakanic maintains his Crosby memorabilia, which includes about 50 books, more than 250 CDs by Crosby, old movie posters and an assortment of vinyl recordings.

"Some of this stuff might be worth something, but I don't think I would ever sell it," he said. "I keep this because I like his music, not to make money."

Mr. Cakanic, 78, was first turned on to Crosby as a boy in the 1940s.

"My sister and I would always fight over what we were going to listen to on the radio," Mr. Cakanic recalled. "I wanted to hear The Lone Ranger, but she always wanted to hear Bing's radio show. "We started taking turns each week, and I grew to like him. What he could do with a song was amazing."

As far as Crosby's legacy is concerned, Mr. Cakanic blames the media for tarnishing his reputation.

Going My Own Way, a biography of Crosby by his son, Gary, and Ross Firestone, painted the singer as an abusive father, which was played up in tabloids, Mr. Cakanic said. Those accusations were denied by other family members of Crosby and later recanted by Gary Crosby, Mr. Cakanic said.

"I don't believe he ever abused his children," Mr. Cakanic said. "I believe he was strict. He didn't want his kids growing up to be Hollywood brats. When you see people like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears today, it seems to me a lot of those Hollywood parents could have learned a thing or two from Bing."

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 823-3424, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.


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