Crosby was born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington, in a house his father built at 1112 North J Street. In 1906, his family moved to Spokane and in 1913, his father built a house at 508 E. Sharp Avenue. The house sits on the campus of his alma mater, Gonzaga University. It functions today as a museum housing over 200 artifacts from his life and career, including his Oscar.
He was the fourth of seven children: brothers Laurence Earl (Larry) (1895–1975), Everett Nathaniel (1896–1966), Edward John (Ted) (1900–1973), and George Robert (Bob) (1913–1993); and two sisters, Catherine Cordelia (1904–1974) and Mary Rose (1906–1990). His parents were Harry Lowe Crosby (1870–1950), a bookkeeper, and Catherine Helen "Kate" (née Harrigan; 1873–1964). His mother was a second generation Irish-American. His father was of English descent; an ancestor, Simon Crosby, emigrated from England to New England in the 1630s during the Puritan migration to New England. Through another line, also on his father's side, Crosby is descended from Mayflower passenger William Brewster (c. 1567 – April 10, 1644).:24 On November 8, 1937, after Lux Radio Theatre's adaptation of She Loves Me Not, Joan Blondell asked Crosby how he got his nickname:
Crosby: "Well, I'll tell you, back in the knee-britches day, when I was a wee little tyke, a mere broth of a lad, as we say in Spokane, I used to totter around the streets, with a gun on each hip, my favorite after school pastime was a game known as "Cops and Robbers", I didn't care which side I was on, when a cop or robber came into view, I would haul out my trusty six-shooters, made of wood, and loudly exclaim bing! bing!, as my luckless victim fell clutching his side, I would shout bing! bing!, and I would let him have it again, and then as his friends came to his rescue, shooting as they came, I would shout bing! bing! bing! bing! bing! bing! bing! bing!"
Blondell: "I'm surprised they didn't call you "Killer" Crosby! Now tell me another story, Grandpa!
Crosby: "No, so help me, it's the truth, ask Mister De Mille."
De Mille: "I'll vouch for it, Bing."
That story was pure whimsy for dramatic effect and the truth is that a neighbor - Valentine Hobart - named him "Bingo from Bingville" after a comic feature in the local paper called "The Bingville Bugle" which the young Harry liked. In time, Bingo got shortened to Bing.
In 1917, Crosby took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium," where he witnessed some of the finest acts of the day, including Al Jolson, who held him spellbound with ad libbing and parodies of Hawaiian songs. He later described Jolson's delivery as "electric."
Crosby graduated from Gonzaga High School (today's Gonzaga Prep) in 1920 and enrolled at Gonzaga University. He attended Gonzaga for three years but did not earn a degree. As a freshman, he played on the university's baseball team. The university granted him an honorary doctorate in 1937. Today, Gonzaga University houses a large collection of photographs, correspondence, and other material related to Crosby.