Bing Crosby (1903-1977) was one of the most popular and important entertainers of the 20th Century. He left behind a large body of work dating from the 1920s, and he was still active at the time of his death.
Today, he’s probably best known for his Christmas music. “White Christmas,” which he introduced in 1942, is one of the two or three biggest-selling recordings in the history of music, and his definitive 1947 version is still heard on the radio every holiday season. But there are plenty of obscurities in his Christmas catalog. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 14 is probably the rarest – or at least it was for a long time.
By 1972, Crosby and his family lived in a suburb of San Francisco most of the time. Bing had significantly curtailed his recording activity in favor of many of his other activities, including his famous pro-am golf tournament at Pebble Beach. Exactly how he became involved isn’t clear to me, but late that year, he agreed to help the Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco with a fund-raising project – an LP to be recorded by the Old St. Mary’s Choir.
Shortly after Christmas, on December 28, Bing joined the church choir, conducted by Robert Emmett Moonan, on two songs, both new. One of them was a celebration of the old cathedral called “We Love Old St. Mary’s,” written by Moonan. The other, a new song written by Jack Sweeny, who was credited as “technical editor” on the album, is called “Christmas Star.” The rest of the LP, which is called Christmas Star, consists of the Old St. Mary’s Choir by itself. The album was released in 1973.
Because the album on which these songs appear was distributed only in the San Francisco area, it’s very hard to find. For decades, it was a Holy Grail for both Crosby and Christmas-music collectors, as it only rarely showed up for sale in the secondary market.
Then, in the early 2010s, Bing Crosby’s estate began releasing CDs with some of the more obscure Christmas music from the years after he left the Decca label in 1957. These included rare radio recordings taken from original studio tapes and not merely dubbed from broadcasts, and they included some holiday recordings he made for the Columbia and Reprise labels. One of these budget-priced CDs, Christmas with Bing!, released in 2013 by Sony Music, had a surprise. With no fanfare at all, this disc contains, among its other gems, the long-lost “Christmas Star.” And it is exactly the same recording as on that benefit LP.
Though I’d never claim it’s one of Bing’s greatest Christmas songs, there’s a certain spirit and sincerity that shines through and makes it likeable. Here’s “Christmas Star”: