The Christmas and holiday season is the perfect time for being with family, and for remembrance, gratitude, and celebration. It is also the time to listen to both good and bad Christmas music. Some people are firm believers of the “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving policy,” others, like myself, will start the Christmas music at 12:00 am November 1st as Halloween (a close second in best holidays) comes to a spooky end. Music provides a vehicle to the past, letting us see what society valued through the music they consumed, and Christmas music is no exception to that.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” This song always brings me peace and makes me feel at home. It soothes me back to the first time I watched the movie White Christmas, which features this song, with my Dad about ten years ago. Bing Crosby’s voice still rings loud and clear whenever I read the lines “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know, where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.” It keeps the wonder and magic of the Christmas season alive for me.
Bing Crosby’s biggest musical success came from this cover of “White Christmas” (written by Irving Berlin) in 1942. He would later win a Grammy for it in 1974. He would even go on to star in a film in 1954 that shared the same name. Bing Crosby obtained lots of success both as a solo singer and in small groups, but most notably as a solo artist later in his career. During World War II he would even travel overseas to perform and entertain U.S troops stationed in Europe.
For me, the name “Bing Crosby” evokes classic Christmas music--but the name Crosby has a much longer history in North America than my mid-twentieth century Christmas-music-nostalgia. In the year 1635, Simon Crosby--a direct ancestor of Bing--immigrated from Stillingfleet, England, along with his wife Anne Crosby and his son Thomas on the ship the Susan and Ellen. They resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Simon was a leader in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Simon, Anne, and Thomas Crosby would have lived right alongside Anne and Simon Bradstreet themselves! Perhaps Simon and Anne Crosby had musical talents like their ancestor, Bing.
If music wasn’t in the Crosby line in the seventeenth-century, it had emerged there strongly in the nineteenth century. Fanny Crosby, a descendant of Simon and relative of Bing, was one of the most popular songwriters of the nineteenth century. Fanny Crosby was referred to as “America’s Hymn Queen” by some. She was blind from the time she was six weeks old, and her grandmother would take her for walks as a child and describe the world around her as best as she could to help Fanny imagine the world in some way. In her life, she wrote over 8,000 hymns, which she began composing at the age of six. Her most popular hymn was “Blessed Assurance.” This hymn was born when a composer Fanny knew played a simple melody and asked Fanny what this said to her. Fanny replied, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”
Over three centuries, the Crosby family carried on the tradition of music, courage, patriotism, and a passion for learning. Fanny and Bing both left their marks on history and revolutionized the music industry. They changed the world they lived in. Bing continued this tradition through his music and all of his actions both as a student and as a performer. There musical legacy would have been very different without Simon and his family’s move to America.