Phil Crosby never met his grandfather, the legendary Bing Crosby, or visited Spokane’s favorite son’s hometown.
The latter will be remedied when Crosby performs at 5:45 p.m. Sunday at the Bing Crosby Theater during his grandfather’s film festival.
“I’m finally going to see where my grandfather grew up,” Crosby said, noting he missed the celebration of Crosby’s 100th birthday in 2003. “It’s going to be a real treat for me to see his house and to perform on the stage at the Bing Crosby Theater. It’s a shame I never met him. I could lie and say that I sat on his lap when I was a kid, but it’s not true and I believe the truth sets you free.”
The film festival start at noon Saturday with White Christmas. Bing Crosby’s nephew, Howard Crosby, will perform at the theater at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for the shows are available at the theater’s website.
Like his grandfather, Phil Crosby, 50, is a crooner. The laid-back bandleader and actor will perform standards with Spokane’s Zonky Jazz Band, led by guitarist Garrin Hertel.
“Phil contacted me about music, and I told him about the film festival celebrating his grandpa on a whim,” Hertel said. “Before I knew it, he said, ‘I’m in,’ and we started making plans for the show that same night.”
Like Hertel, 51, Crosby didn’t connect with vintage music until he was in his 30s.
“That’s one of the common denominators we share,” Hertel said. “We both love this music and have so much respect for what his grandfather accomplished.”
When Crosby was coming of age in Hollywood, he didn’t realize what his grandfather achieved.
“I knew the Bing Crosby from his Christmas films,” Crosby said in a call from his Los Angeles home. “I was unaware of what he accomplished early in his career.”
A college professor gifted Crosby the album, “Bing Crosby and Some Jazz Friends: The Original American Decca Recordings.” That collection of classics helped change Crosby’s view of his grandfather. Songs like “Some of These Days” showed Crosby a side of his grandfather’s ability that he never grasped.
The album inspired Crosby to post on a musician’s network in 2001, and he hinted at his family connection.
“I just wanted to find stable musicians to work with and I figured jazz cats would be into the idea,” Crosby said. “I worded it something like, ‘Crooner’s grandkid seeks jazz band. Call Phil Crosby Jr.’ Not very subtle, but it worked.”
When Crosby started playing his grandfather’s classic tunes, he realized why the greatest generation had so much respect for Bing Crosby.
“When I matured and looked back, I was blown away by the fact that Bing was this innovative jazz musician,” Crosby said.
Crosby discovered that it’s not so easy to sing the songs his grandfather made famous.
“It’s not so difficult to sing Frank Sinatra songs, but it’s another thing to sing Bing Crosby’s material,” Crosby said.
It’s been a long process for Crosby to nail Bing Crosby tunes. About 15 years ago, a Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote that Crosby, who played in rock bands during his 20s, sounded more like Bob Dylan than his grandfather.
“And he wasn’t that far off,” Crosby said. “People don’t realize how difficult it is to sing like Bing Crosby.
“I didn’t know how to approach Bing Crosby’s music. I thought to myself, ‘How can I sound more like my grandfather?’ It’s taken years of study from different teachers to get where I am today when I sing his songs. It’s been worth the work, since I consider Bing Crosby to be one of the greatest singers to ever live. I’m looking forward to singing ‘Happy Feet’ and some other great songs.”
Crosby was detached from his grandfather’s inner circle since his father and his uncles were disconnected from Bing Crosby.
“I think Bing was embarrassed by some of the choices his sons made,” Crosby said. “My mother sent photos of me to Bing and he replied to her, but my father, who was a complicated man, didn’t help. Even if I met Bing, I would have been too young to remember since I was 4 years old when he died.”
It’s been a fascinating life for Crosby, whose mother is actress Peggy Compton. The self-described finicky kid passed on becoming a child actor.
“My mother would take me to auditions and I remember being around children who became successful child actors like Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, but I didn’t want to do it,” Crosby said. “My mother told me that if I did act, could I imagine what toys I would be able to buy, but she bought me those toys anyway. Like any other kid at that age, I just wanted to play. My mother is wonderful.”
Actor-singer Dean Martin planned to marry his mom.
“We lived for four months in Dean’s beach house in Malibu,” Crosby said. “I’ll never forget that there were cartons of cigarettes everywhere. I remember Dean asking me to get him his cigarettes and I said, ‘No, I’m not your son.’ One time, he took us through the drive-thru at McDonald’s in his Stutz Blackhawk, but the drive-thru was too narrow for that classic car and both sides of the car were scratched. The employees just looked at us like a UFO had landed. You’d think he’d be angry, but he and my mom laughed and laughed.”
Compton also was in a long-term relationship with actor Jack Klugman. The couple moved in with each other in 1988 and married in 2008. Klugman was close with Crosby.
“Jack was so progressive,” Crosby said. “He loved that I was such a free spirit. He liked that I was off doing my own thing and never asked him for anything. He was like the father I never had.”
Crosby will visit the Bing Crosby house with his son, Zion.
“I want my boy to see where his great-grandfather lived,” Crosby said. “I’m looking forward to the tour that Gonzaga is setting up for us. I want to learn as much as I can about Bing Crosby, and then I’ll play his songs during a night I’ll never forget.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, to correct the time and day of Phil Crosby’s performance and to add details about the film festival and Howard Crosby’s performance.
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