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American History: February '99 Letters

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 1999 
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WHAT ABOUT BING?

Tom Huntington's Editor's Desk column in the October 1998 issue stated that Frank Sinatra is our greatest singer. Who are you kidding? What about Harry Lillis Crosby, better known as Bing? He was one of the 100 people chosen to be included in Life magazine's issue marking the twentieth century because of his contribution to history.

When Bing sang before an audience, he did not use his hands or a cigarette as a prop as Sinatra did. Bing could do anything, and in his own impeccable way.

Crosby fan clubs exist in the United States, Britain, and Australia. There is even a baseball stadium in Front Royal, Virginia, which bears his name because he helped build a youth center and stadium in that county. In 1977, the year the singer died, the World Series was being played in Los Angeles, and a moment of silence was observed because of Bing and his love of the game.

Helen Ley
Harrisonburg, Virginia

Tom Huntington replies: Helen Ley touches on a debate that began in the 1940s and obviously still continues today. I should point out, however, that I never said that Sinatra is our greatest singer (although I may have thought it). Sinatra, of course, was always open in his acknowledgement of Crosby's influence. In fact, it was reportedly after seeing a Crosby performance that the young Sinatra announced to his girlfriend Nancy, "Some day that's going to be me up there." In the context of the George Gershwin article in the October issue, which prompted my musing about Sinatra, it's interesting to note that Crosby once sang with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra and appeared with him in the movie The King of Jazz. Whiteman, of course, was the bandleader who got George Gershwin to write "Rhapsody in Blue."

NOT WILSON'S CAMERA

The article "Official U.S. Army Photographer" by William Wilson, which appeared in your October 1998 issue, featured a camera that could not have been used by Mr. Wilson at that point in time. The one shown on the opening page is a Speed or Crown Graphic, which was not introduced until after World War II. I believe you meant to show an Anniversary model, which was the official camera at that time. I did enjoy the article–we owe a lot to the brave men like Mr. Wilson who photographed the war at great personal risk to themselves.

R.J. Lewis
Carlsbad, California

Editor's Note: The camera featured at the beginning of the article was used as a design element only. However, we contacted Mr. Wilson, who says, "The camera shown in the article is not the type used in Europe and North Africa during World War II. We did use the Speed Graphic camera, which we operated exactly like the models many of us had used in civilian life prior to Pearl Harbor, but the exposed metal parts on nearly all of the armed forces cameras were finished in black instead of the chrome on the civilian models. The obvious reason for this was to camouflage the camera as much as possible so it would not reveal its user's location and subject him unnecessarily to enemy fire."

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