A Farewell to Mitch Miller
~ posted by Rich Upton, KMFA Operations Manager and afternoon announcer
Mitch Miller died Saturday, July 31. He was 99.
The younger you are, the less likely you are to know who Mitch Miller was. I was born in 1955, and much of the earliest music I remember hearing came to my ears courtesy of Mitch Miller.
He was a musician, a singer, a record producer, a choral director, a conductor, a television personality, a record company executive, and an Artists and Repertoire man for a major record label. His career encompassed popular music, easy listening, classical, film music, and country music. He abhorred rock music to the point that he passed up the opportunity to sign Elvis Presley (whose manager wanted too much money for Miller’s taste) and Buddy Holly (although he himself DID eventually record an embarrassing version of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance”). He produced records for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Marty Robbins, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, Guy Mitchell and many others, and while many of these records were hits, Miller had plenty of critics who felt that he reduced these singers to the lowest common denominator by aiming for the charts (often with novelty songs) rather than making great records.
I remember becoming aware of Mitch Miller in the early ’60s when “Sing Along with Mitch” appeared on the NBC television network. Each week, Miller smiled non-stop while conducting a male chorus in well-known songs, inviting the audience at home to “follow the bouncing ball” that moved along the top of superimposed lyrics, and sing along. That’s his male chorus you hear singing Paul Anka’s “Theme from ‘The Longest Day’” under the credits for that film.
Miller was a classically trained oboist, and guest-conducted many fine American orchestras. He appears as a conductor in the KMFA music library on a 1987 recording with pianist David Golub and the London Symphony Orchestra of George Gershwin’s works for piano and orchestra.
This photo of Mitch Miller and me was taken in the hallway at the KMFA studios in 1995. I was 40 then, and Miller was a spry 84. (As you can see, this was also before we painted the dark brown paneling on the walls, and, as evidenced by the cigar in Miller’s hand, before smoking was disallowed in the building.) He came by the studios for an interview. I don’t know if it ever aired, and the fate of the recording is unknown to me. But it was a privilege to meet such a legend, and he was a very nice man. The smiles on our faces are genuine.
Thanks for all the music, Mitch. You will be missed.
Rich Upton is KMFA’s weekday afternoon announcer, KMFA Operations Manager, and host of Sunday Night Symphony. You can hear Sunday Night Symphony on Sundays at 9pm.