Robert Crawford was born in a little cabin in Dawson City, in July of 1899. His father had been the bailiff for the city of Seatlle before joining the hordes of gold-seekers heading for the Klondike in 1897. The Crawfords moved to Fairbanks in 1904 where young Robert went to school. His older brother, Sam, had a Victrola phonograph. Robert loved listening to his brother's substantial collection of classical recordings. In 1915, he wrote his first song called 'My Northland'. It became a quite popular and gave Robert recognition both in Alaska and Seattle.
As if to strengthen his love of the northland, he became president, at the tender age of 13, of the newly formed group called Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden North. This youth organization was sponsored by the Arctic Brotherhood. When it came time to enter high school, Robert Crawford was sent to live with relatives in Washington state. In 1921, he enrolled in Princeton University's school of music. His love of music continued to grow and he eventually studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Fontainbleau, France, and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
Apart from music, aviation was his other love. He took flying lessons in New Jersey and bought a two-seated English Avian aircraft. In 1932, as his singing career grew, Time magazine dubbed him "the flying baritone". He returned to Alaska many times during the 30s to hold stage performances. In September, 1938, Liberty magazine sponsored a contest for an official song for the then-called Army Air Force. Robert Crawford entered his composition, which won the first prize of one thousand dollars. The official name of that song, which to this day is the official theme of the United States Air Force, is "The Air Force Song". But it's better known around the world as the rousing call to arms "Into the Wild Blue Yonder". During the Second World War the song was credited with enlisting more men into the air force that any speech or poster had done.
Crawford, a Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Command during the war, went on to become a professor of music at the University of Miami. But he never lost his love of the north. In 1958, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra premiered his composition called Alaskana. Robert Crawford said the inspiration for the symphony came from a line in Robert Service's poem, 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'. The line that struck him was "were you ever out in the great alone". In 1958, he left the University of Miami and headed for New York to write Broadway musicals. Some of the song titles in his first play were "Alas, I'm a Lass from Alaska", "There Must be a Heaven for My Dog", and "Parking' in a Parka". Alas, the play was never finished. Robert Crawford died suddenly on March 12, 1961. The Fairbanks Miner noted his death with the line "the singing spirit of Robert Crawford has gone into the wild blue yonder of his famed air force song".
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin