When the kids were infants, I never sang them traditional lullabies. Instead, while feeding them, or rocking them to sleep at night, I sang them Bing Crosby songs.
I can’t recall exactly when or why I became a Bing Crosby fan. I think it was sometime in 1995. I walked into a record store in Studio City, where I lived at the time, and came across a boxed set of Bing Crosby music called Bing Crosby: His Legendary Years, 1931-1959. It seemed to call to me and I bought it on the spot, despite it being expensive for me at the time.
Twenty years later, I probably know about 150 Bing Crosby songs. His movies are among my favorites. It is a strange thing for someone who was 5 years old when Crosby died. But it served me well when the kids were babies.
When it was time to put them down for the night, I’d take them into their bedroom, and sit in the rocker we had in there. With the lights off, I’d cradle them in my arms, and sing to them. Sometimes, they’d fall asleep after a song or two. Other times, it could take an hour or more before they conked out.
I made a game of it. How many songs would I sing before they closed their eyes and fell asleep? Back in those days, I’d say things like, “Last night was great! A three-song night!” Other times, I’d croak, “Fifteen songs tonight!” On those nights when the kids just didn’t want to nod off, I tested my abilities by trying not to repeat a song, no matter how long it took for the kids to finally fall asleep.
On average, it probably took between six and ten songs before the kids finally slept. There was a core set list that most nights centered around. My go-to songs for a typical night were, in no particular order:
- Whiffenpoof Song
- Far Away Places
- Dear Hearts and Gentle People
- Sam’s Song
- Gone Fishin’
- Blue Hawaii
- I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams
- Trade Winds
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Those ten songs could usually get me through the night, but sometimes, I’d have to dig deep with songs like:
- On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe
- The Road to Morocco
- Be Careful, It’s My Heart
- The Spaniard that Blighted My Life
- Now Is the Hour
- Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day
- Sweet Leilani
- Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)
- Change Partners
- It Might As Well Be Spring
To this day, the Little Man, who has managed to inherit my ear for lyrics and music, still know the words to songs like “Gone Fishin’” and “Far Away Places.”
For a long time, my knowledge of Bing Crosby songs, both popular and obscure, was useful mostly to entertain myself, and later, my kids. That changed last year. Knowledge of Bing Crosby came in handy in a surprising and fun way.
Our friend Melissa celebrated a big birthday and invited a bunch of her friends and family for a weekend celebration at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. On the second night, she rented out a small local restaurant for a private party. The place was packed, the drinks were flowing, and everyone was having a blast.
Sometime well into the night, the music paused momentarily and was replaced by a brief musical band intro. At once I knew what song it was. I saw Melissa stand up to begin singing and dancing to “MacNamara’s Band” and I couldn’t resist. I got up, and in front of the restaurant full of people, the two of us began to sing, “Oh me name is MacNamara, I’m leader of the band / Although we’re few in number, we’re the finest in the land…”
We sang the whole song, from start to finish, and roared through the chorus, “Oh, the sun goes bang and the cymbals clang, and the horns they blaze away…” It is quite possible we were the only two people in the restaurant (or perhaps all of Hot Springs, Virginia) that knew the words to the song, and could sing them. I had a blast.
And I doubt that ever would have happened, if not for my desperation to learn more and more Bing Crosby songs to sing to the kids when they were babies. The songs served as untraditional lullabies, but they did the trick, and if I had to do it all over again, I would do it just the same.