b. Mitchell William Miller, July 4, 1911, Rochester, New
York. A musician, arranger and record producer. Miller learned to play the
piano at the age of six, and began studying the oboe when he was 12, and later
attended Rochester's Eastman School of Music. After graduating in 1932, Miller
played oboe with symphony orchestras in the area, before joining CBS Radio in
1932. In the late '40s he became
director of Mercury Records' "pop" division, and then in 1950, was appointed
head of A&R1 at Columbia Records. While at Mercury, Miller was responsible for
producing several big hits, including Frankie Laine's "That Lucky Old Sun",
"Mule Train" and "The Cry Of The Wild Goose". Shortly after Miller left Mercury,
Patti Page's "Tennessee Waltz" became an enormous hit. This marked the first
successful cross-over2 from the country to pop genres in recording industry
history. Miller developed this policy when he moved to
Columbia, and recorded Guy Mitchell ("Singing The Blues" and "Knee Deep In The
Blues"), Tony Bennett ("Cold, Cold Heart"), Rosemary Clooney ("Half As Much"),
Jo Stafford ("Jambalaya") and the little-known Joan Weber ("Let Me Go Lover").
Miller's roster at Columbia also included Johnnie Ray ("Cry", "The Little White
Cloud That Cried", "Just Crying In The Rain") and Frank
THE MUSICAL SCHLOCK-PURVEYOR?
Miller was not popular among his stable of artists. Clooney often
complained that Miller gave her only "novelty" songs to record.
"Come-On-A-My-House" and "Mambo Italiano" were chart-topping hits, but these oddball, demeaning tunes (which Clooney couldn't stand) took
their toll on Clooney. She ended up hospitalized for depression and
addiction. Music industry lore attributes an escalation of her drug addiction to "My House," despite its commercial success, but her final breakdown to Miller's insistence she record "Mambo Italiano."
UPDATE 11/1/2006: The preceding paragraph is only half-correct. Clooney truly went mad after Bobby Kennedy was shot a mere few feet away from her in 1968. The dearth of Clooney recordings during periof from the late '60s to the late '70s testifies to the depth of her emotional troubles.
Sinatra left Columbia and shortly thereafter accused Miller of accepting
financial rewards from songwriters for using their tunes. He took his
complaints in writing to a senate committee investigating corrupt practices in
the recording industry. Sinatra had endured a string of second- and
third-rate songs -- all provided by Miller. Sinatra's last straw at
Columbia was the completely inappropriate duet with singer Dagmar, "Mama Will
Bark," on which Sinatra can be heard making dog noises.
"Mitch Miller And His Gang" began recording in 1950 and cut a number of hit
records between 1950 and 1959, including "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" which
spent six weeks at Number One on the charts.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
Miller is probably most popular for his wildly successful "Sing Along With
Mitch" albums. The albums featured a chorus singing old favorite tunes.
Nineteen "Sing Along With Mitch" albums made the Top 40 charts between 1958
and 1962. Seven of the titles sold over a million records. The "Sing
Along" concept was made into a popular television series, running from
1961-1966. The television show featured the chorus as well as celebrity
solo singers. The signature "bouncing ball" which followed the lyrics as
they scrolled along the television screen guided viewers as they sang along at
INABILITY TO CHANGE WITH THE TIMES
Criticized often for his refusal to embrace the rock 'n roll genre, he was
blamed for Columbia's small market share in that genre and neo-pop.
Columbia was realizing substantial revenues from Miller's recordings, and, to a
lesser degree, the "traditional-pop" recordings made by the artists he promoted
into the '60s, including Johnny Mathis, Percy Faith, and Doris Day.
Day is best remembered for her chart-topper, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be
Will Be)". Miller had probably shot himself in the foot by refusing to
sign a number of rock artists who went on to great success at other record
labels. Astonishingly, Buddy Holly was among the smash artists Miller
refused. Columbia dismissed Miller as top executive despite his successes,
because of his failure to acknowledge the dramatic changes in listeners' tastes;
particularly that of the teen-age record buying public.
In defense of Miller, he did make an unsuccessful attempt to sign Elvis
Presley, and supported music producer John Hammond's decision to sign Bob
Dylan. Dylan was very profitable for Columbia during the folk music
craze of the '60s.
As of this writing, Miller is still alive and in his 90's.
The artists whose talents he exploited are all dead.
Mitch Miller died on July 31, 2010 of natural causes. He was 99 years old.
- A&R: Artists and Repertoire. In the music industry, A&R
directors carry a lot of clout.
- Cross-over: music industry term for the phenomenon of a song being
written in one genre, then getting air-play on radio stations featuring a
different genre. Also applies to purchases of recordings by a market
segment different from the one initially intended.