Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mitch Miller

I know that this is a few days late, but I thought I would post a memoriam for Mitch Miller.  I had no idea who this guy was years ago, when I purchased this album at a thrift store....



Inside the album were lyrics so that everyone can sing along...this was long before karaoke.  It looked like a fun sing-along album to play during the holidays, which was why I bought it.   Anyway, when I heard that he had passed away on July 31st, I thought I would find out more about this Mitch Miller guy.  He was a musician, singer, conductor, record producer and record company executive.  He served as the head of A&R records back in the 50s and 60s and was responsible for signing important artists such as Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, Jimmy Boyd, Jonny Mathis, Tony Bennett and Guy Mitchell.  He also helped direct the careers of Doris Day, Dinah Shore and Jo Stafford.  He is also the one who discovered Aretha Franklin and signed her to her first major recording contract.

He was also known for not pursuing some giant acts of the day such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, because Mitch did not approve of the Rock n' Roll sound.  He preferred promoting gimmicks and had a penchant for novelty songs...which did not sit too well with some people, including Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney.  Music historian Will Friedwald wrote in his book Jazz Singing that "Miller exemplified the worst in American pop.  He first aroused the ire of intelligent listeners by trying to turn — and darn near succeeding in turning — great artists like Sinatra, Clooney, and Tony Bennett into hacks. Miller chose the worst songs and put together the worst backings imaginable — not with the hit-or-miss attitude that bad musicians ... traditionally used, but with insight, forethought, careful planning, and perverted brilliance."[

In the 1960s, Miller became a household name with his 1961–1966 NBC television show Sing Along with Mitch, a community-sing program featuring him and a male chorale.  During the second season of Sing Along with Mitch, Miller himself coined the catchphrase "all smiles." Many people seem to think these were preceded by the instructions to "sing along; just follow the bouncing ball" — a large dot that "bounced" above the words that were superimposed on the screen of the song that Mitch and the chorale were performing. However, the show was sponsored by Ballantine beer and sometimes the Ballantine rings logo would be substituted for the dot. Miller did not use the "bouncing ball", that was a staple of movie theater singalong shorts, most notably from Warner Brothers cartoons. Miller himself stated that in a 2000 interview "there never was a bouncing ball."

Many people credit him as the inventor of what would eventually become the modern day version of Karaoke.  Sing Along with Mitch ran on television from 1961 until it was canceled in 1964, a victim of changing musical tastes. Advertisers were more interested in targeting the youth market, and the show was geared too much toward mature viewers. The show's format remained popular in England, where comedian Max Bygraves hosted his own version, Sing Along with Max.  Sadly, his name has been forgotten over the years, and to be honest, I had never heard of him, until I purchased that Christmas album a few years ago.  So here's to Mitch!  

2 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

He was kind of permanently stuck in the 50s. But he was a big name in his day!

SUZY8-TRACK said...

Sadly, his day was before my time...which is probably why I never heard of him. From what I read about him, he was a powerful force in the music industry though.