Cole Porter, Bing Crosby & Leonard Bernstein: News & Obituaries

During this October week in American history three musical geniuses died who had a big impact on music—both in America and around the world:

  • Cole (Albert) Porter, American composer, died at 73 on 15 October 1964
  • Bing Crosby (Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby, Jr.), American singer and actor, died at 74 on 14 October 1977
  • Leonard Bernstein, American composer, conductor, and pianist, died at 72 on 14 October 1990

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. You can use newspapers to research their public careers and trace their family trees. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Cole Porter (1891-1964)

Cole Porter, best known for his musical Kiss Me, Kate, had a long, prolific career in musical theater. A composer and songwriter, he had a string of hits on Broadway in the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Porter wrote both the music and the lyrics for his songs, and his many hit songs include “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “You’re the Top.”

Porter’s career was interrupted in 1937 by a severe accident while horseback riding, leaving him disabled and in pain for the rest of his life.

Cole Porter Hurt in Riding Accident, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 25 October 1937

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 25 October 1937, page 14

He carried on, however, and his triumph Kiss Me, Kate in 1948 placed him at the top of his profession once again.

Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me, Kate' Wins Royal Salute, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 31 December 1948

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 31 December 1948, page 11

Along with his successful Broadway shows, Porter also wrote numerous film scores, to great acclaim. He wrote his last musical, Silk Stockings, in 1955, and his last songs for a film were for the Gene Kelly movie Les Girls in 1957.

The next year was a turning point in Porter’s life. His severely damaged right leg was finally amputated—and he never wrote another song again. He lived the last six years of his life quietly, primarily in seclusion, and died in Santa Monica, California, in 1964.

Cole Porter Dies; Leaves Legacy of World-Famed Music, Seattle Daily Times newspaper obituary 16 October 1964

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 October 1964, page 9

His obituary stated:

“Porter’s works revolutionized song writing in many ways. It was he who first broke away, successfully, from the restrictions of Tin-Pan Alley traditions that a popular song had to have a 16-bar verse and a 32-bar chorus. Some of his pieces almost doubled this.

“His lyrics were so good they were published as a book of poems. Their sophistication, wit and complex inner rhymes won him accolades as the foremost Indiana poet since James Whitcomb Riley.”

Bing Crosby (1903-1977)

Bing Crosby is a towering figure in American music, radio, and film history. From the 1930s to the 1950s Crosby had tremendous success, from multi-selling records, popular radio shows, and movie roles. As a recording artist alone, Crosby sold more than half a billion records! He is honored with three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his records, movies, and radio shows.

The extent of Bing Crosby’s fame and popularity can be glimpsed in this 1949 newspaper article.

'Raffles' Changed His Mind about Robbing Bing Crosby, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 22 February 1949

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 22 February 1949, page 1

Bing Crosby died doing something he loved. Late on the afternoon of 14 October 1977, he and a partner defeated two Spanish pros after 18 holes of golf in Madrid, Spain. Immediately after securing the victory, Crosby had a heart attack and died on one of the greens of the golf course.

Bing Crosby Dead, Boston Herald newspaper obituary 15 October 1977

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 October 1977, page 1

His obituary described Crosby as “the golden-voiced singer-actor who serenaded three generations of lovers” and reported:

“Crosby was ‘happy and singing’ during the 4½ hour round of golf that was to be his last, one of his golfing partners said.”

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Leonard Bernstein was one of the most famous musicians in the world, renowned for his composing, conducting, and piano playing. He gained his fame as the long-time music director of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, but in his long career he conducted most of the world’s best orchestras. He was equally well-known for his tremendous talent at the piano, often playing at the keyboard while conducting piano concertos.

Bernstein was also a gifted composer, achieving lasting fame for his music for the musical West Side Story, which opened on Broadway on 26 September 1957. The next day, this review noted that “the first-night audience gave it a rousing reception.”

'West Side Story' Linked to Bard, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 27 September 1957

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 September 1957, page 17

Bernstein, suffering from lung disease, conducted for the last time on 19 August 1990 at a concert with the Boston Symphony—a performance unfortunately marred by his suffering a coughing attack during the playing of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. On 9 October 1990 he announced he would no longer conduct; five days later he died from a heart attack.

Bernstein Dead at 72, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 October 1990

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 October 1990, page 1

Calling him “the impassioned American maestro,” Bernstein’s obituary noted some of his many achievements and the causes he supported:

“The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he led an orchestra performance at a liberated concentration camp, raised money for the Black Panthers and on Christmas 1989 celebrated the demise of the Berlin Wall by conducting [in East Berlin, Germany] Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Newspaper Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family tree and the famous people you admire most!

Genealogy Is Family Stories & Newspapers Are Full of Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott hears some interesting family stories from his 93-year-old mother and digs into old newspapers to learn more.

If you were at RootsTech 2013 or followed much of that genealogy conference online as I did, you know that speaker after speaker reminded us that stories are what make our genealogy come alive. I am sure you will agree with this sentiment. Few things in our family history work surpasses the impact and enjoyment of stories.

So it was natural that I got to thinking again about the multitude of stories that adorn my family tree. It is probably the item I ask for most often from people for our tree, right after I hound them for a photograph. Family stories can tell us so much about the lives and times of our ancestors. They offer us snapshots of life that are often filled with amazing tidbits and personal details.

photo of Scott Phillips and his 93-year-old mother

Photo: Scott Phillips’s mother sharing her stories with him. Credit: from the author’s collection.

When I am working on my genealogy early in the morning and it is too early to bother family members for a new story over the phone, I scan the newspaper for new information and stories that might be of interest. Since I am also a GOG—a Grizzled Old Genealogist—I still like my newspaper the old-fashioned way, delivered to my stoop each morning.

I begin my day, every day, the same way my father always began his day. That would be with the comics section of the newspaper! My Dad, God rest his soul, always said “The headlines and business news can wait. It’s more important to start your day off with a smile.” Then he would first open the paper to the funny pages.

Still to this day, I start my day the same way! Two things happen: I do indeed start my day with a smile and a chuckle; and in my mind’s eye I can see and hear my dad chuckle over his favorite comic, “Pogo” by Walt Kelly. My dad even had his favorite quote, uttered by Pogo himself, taped on his desk: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo cartoon for Earth Day 1971, Anchorage Daily News newspaper 18 April 1971

Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska), 18 April 1971, page 4

Not long ago I was visiting with my 93-year-old Mother about all things family and asking her about stories from her youth in the Czech community of Cleveland, Ohio. One of the stories she shared gave me gooseflesh. She told me about living in fear at the time of the “Torso Murders” in Cleveland that instilled dread throughout her neighborhood and the entire city.

This story was new to me, so it didn’t take me long to pull up some articles on GenealogyBank.com and begin to research this story from the 1930s involving a set of serial murders which remain unsolved to this day. I dug into this story and was fascinated to learn that these murders greatly tarnished the career of one of America’s most famous “G-Men,” Elliot Ness.

The "Mad Butcher" Strikes Again, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 18 September 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 18 September 1938, page 37

While I was reading my fourth newspaper article about the “Torso Murders” I was thrilled to find that one of my ancestors, Gordon Shibley, was a Cleveland Police Detective working to try and solve these horrible crimes. It was amazing and quite interesting to follow this strange murder case and read, in a 1936 article, about my ancestor’s efforts trying to solve these heinous crimes.

story about the "Torso Murders" in Cleveland in the 1930s, Plain Dealer newspaper article 12 September 1936

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 12 September 1936, page 1

As I was following this story as it unfolded in the newspapers of the day through GenealogyBank.com it was easy for me to check out, and add to, my family tree with additional items I uncovered. For example, I found other stories covering Detective Shibley’s experiences as a member of Cleveland’s “Thin Blue Line,” some family obituaries, wedding announcements, and many more family-related newspaper articles. I was able to more fully populate our family tree as I read and learned about some of Detective Shibley’s parents and siblings.

I have now become so intrigued with this historical murder case that I ordered a copy of the book In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders written by James Jessen Badal (Kent State University Press, 2001) for even more in-depth information on this family-linked story. I am excited to get this book—especially since I have been told there are multiple references to my detective ancestor in it.

My Mom finished her recollections by telling how her mother would admonish her and her brother each day, when they went to school or out to play, to be very careful. She said this warning continued for many years even when she and her brother headed just down the street to their highly-loved corner candy shop…the one operated by an uncle, which was half beer parlor and half candy store. Wow, did my ears perk up at hearing that! Here is yet another new family story I will get to investigate!

What is your favorite family story that you have been able to add to your family tree?

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NGS Newsmagazine – Latest Issue

The April-June 2008 issue of the NGS Newsmagazine (National Genealogical Society) just arrived in the mail.

Articles:
Alpert, Janet A. President’s Message. pp. 2-3
Kerstens, Elizabeth Kelly. Editor’s Corner. pp. 4-5
Freilich, Kay Haviland & Ann Carter Fleming. Research in the States Series Expands. pp. 10-11.
Jennings, Arlene V. Reconstructing family history from museum visits. pp. 18-22.
Mieszala, Debbie. Courage on the Seas: Records of the United States Life-Saving Service. pp. 23-27, 51.
Smith, Gary M. & Diana Crisman Smith. Reaching Genealogists through Words (ISFHWE, Genealogical Speakers Guild). pp. 28-31.
Hovorka, Janet. Care and Repair of Photographs. pp. 33-37.
Gray, Gordon. What is APG? pp. 38-41.
Pierce, Alycon Trubey. Adding final pension payment voucher records to the researcher’s toolbox. pp. 42-48.
Smith, Gary M. & Diana Crisman Smith. Research dilemmas of broken homes. pp. 49-51.
Swanson, Andree Brower. Not so plain Jane (Jane Crawford). pp. 52-54.
Schneck, Barbara. Review of Family Tree Maker 2008. pp. 55-58.
Smith, Drew. Papa’s got a brand new genealogy bag. pp. 59-61.
Hinds, Harold E., Jr. A paradigm shift? Biology vs. lineage. pp. 62-63.