Aug 6, 2010

"Sing Along with Mitch" Bandleader dies at 99

NEW YORK – Mitch Miller, the goateed orchestra leader who asked Americans to "Sing Along With Mitch" on television and records and produced hits for Tony Bennett, Patti Page and other performers, has died at age 99.

His daughter, Margaret Miller Reuther, said Monday that Miller died Saturday in Lenox Hill Hospital after a short illness.

Miller was a key record executive at Columbia Records in the pre-rock 'n' roll era, making hits with singers Bennett, Page, Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Mathis. As a producer and arranger, Miller had misses, too, famously striking out on projects with Frank Sinatra and a young Aretha Franklin and in general scorning the rise of rock.

"Sing Along With Mitch" started as a series of records, then became a popular NBC show starting in early 1961. Miller's stiff-armed conducting style and signature goatee became famous. The TV show ranked in the top 20 for the 1961-62 season, and soon children everywhere were parodying Miller's stiff-armed conducting. An all-male chorus sang old standards, joined by a few female singers, most prominently Leslie Uggams. Viewers were invited to join in with lyrics superimposed on the screen and followed with a bouncing ball.

"He is an odd-looking man," New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in 1962. "His sharp beard, twinkling eyes, wrinkled forehead and mechanical beat make him look like a little puppet as he peers hopefully into the camera. By now most of us are more familiar with his tonsils than with those of our families."

8 minute you tube video

Atkinson went on to say that as a musician, Miller was "first rate," praising "the clean tone of the singing, the clarity of the lyrics, the aptness of the tempos, the variety and the occasional delicacy of the instrumental accompaniment."
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