SPOKANE — Bill Stimson knows Bing Crosby has fans all around the world.
Crosby, the Spokane-raised legendary musician and Oscar-winning movie star, is the most recorded performer in history, according to PBS, having made more than 2,000 commercial recordings and approximately 4,000 radio programs along with film and television appearances from the ’20s until his death in 1977. He produced more than 40 No. 1 hits over the course of his career — more than The Beatles and Elvis Presley combined.
Yet from Stimson’s experience, many know of Crosby only from the song “White Christmas.”
“He has not been marketed like, for example, (Frank) Sinatra and Louis Armstrong and so forth,” said Stimson, president of the volunteer Bing Crosby Advocates group in Spokane.
A deal struck between Crosby’s heirs and a publishing company could change that.
Primary Wave Music, a publishing company with offices in New York City and Los Angeles, has purchased a stake in the assets owned by HLC Properties Ltd., the company owned by the Crosby estate. Those assets include the Bing Crosby Archives with thousands of recordings by Crosby and other artists, including many unreleased tracks, Primary Wave announced Monday.
The deal is estimated in excess of $50 million, according to The Associated Press.
“There were things that became absolutely top hits in the ’30s and ’40s, for a sustained period of time, and they just went away,” Harry Crosby, Bing Crosby’s son, told the AP. “People associate Dad with Christmas, but in the ’40s and ’50s, they didn’t associate him with Christmas. They associated Dad with tons of things, and that’s what I want to bring back.”
Terms of the agreement include artist royalties from master recordings with Crosby’s performances, writer royalties from Crosby-written songs and his rights in the film “White Christmas.”
Primary Wave has also acquired a stake in Crosby’s name and likeness and rights of publicity.
The Crosby estate, meanwhile, will have access to Primary Wave’s marketing team, digital team, publicity department, branding team and publishing infrastructure, according to the company.
Primary Wave works with the estates of Count Basie, Ray Charles and — following a purchase announced this past summer — Prince.
Larry Mestel, founder and CEO of Primary Wave, told the AP the company’s first priority is to increase Crosby’s digital footprint, boost his Spotify profile and add his music to playlists to reach younger generations of listeners.
“We want to be in business and partner with the greatest of the greats, regardless of the genre, regardless of the era,” Mestel said.
Beyond “White Christmas,” some of Crosby’s other hit songs include “Pennies From Heaven,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Accentuate the Positive.” He also filmed a duet with David Bowie on “The Little Drummer Boy” made for a television special shortly before his death.
Crosby won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1945 for starring in “Going My Way.”
Mestel said it’s challenging to reach youth with the work of a mature artist — especially because Crosby is not alive to promote his material.
Howard Crosby, Bing Crosby’s nephew, believes that at least some of his uncle’s lesser-known tracks can appeal to younger listeners, saying, “A lot of it was pretty timeless.”
“If you look at the ability of Louis Armstrong to transcend generations, a lot of what Bing did was the same genre, really,” he said. “The music has broad appeal. You don’t have 41 No. 1 hits across your career without having a lot of appeal to your music.”
Howard Crosby, who has performed his uncle’s music over the years at the annual Bing Crosby Holiday Film Festival in Spokane, said he has seen a mix of people of all ages in the audience during the event.
The Crosby Christmas festival has taken place over the years at the Bing Crosby Theater on West Sprague Avenue. The former Clemmer Theatre, where Bing Crosby was a regular near the start of his career, was renamed as such in 2006.
Crosby’s childhood home on Sharp Avenue is now the Bing Crosby House Museum. Stephanie Plowman, special-collections librarian at Gonzaga University and the unofficial curator of the Crosby museum, said most visitors to the Bing Crosby House are older.
Plowman said Bing Crosby, through his works and music, “still has a lot to speak to this generation.”
“His music, the lyrics were positive,” she said. “For the most part, his characters were good, wholesome people. He brings back what is good about our country.”
Stimson said Bing Crosby, for his part, was not very self-promotional, while he believes Crosby’s family has not been very expansive with the rights to his music.
“He was big. In the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, he was the biggest name in music. Period,” Stimson said. “But he didn’t like that role. He was very modest. … He’s sort of like the least-known of all of the most famous American performers.”
Today marks 44 years since Bing Crosby’s death.