In the past 6 or so months, I've had the privilege to process a good many of the Mitch Miller recordings from his personal collection, recently donated to the Library of Congress. I can't say that I grew up with any preconceptions about him because he was taken off the air about the same time I was born in 1964. As my tastes run toward alt. rock, I didn't really even know who he was.
The bulk of the collection is not surprisingly the audio masters of the Sing Along with Mitch television show. The collection also includes many classical performances, his guest conducting spots, and radio interviews. For example, you can find Miller talking diplomatically of his relationship with Sinatra on the old Larry King MBS show; Miller honoring composer and colleague Alec Wilder on a local AM station; Miller speaking about his recording session with Charlie Parker; and Miller's eloquent speech at the memorial service of John Hammond, with Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Stevie Ray Vaughan all providing musical numbers as well.
It was strange but the Sing Along shows are strangely refreshing, even "unique," and that's part of why I like them. You might even say they have a sound as characteristic to the producer as a Phil Spector, or Eno, or Daniel Lanois. Miller used Leslie Uggams and Bob McGrath pretty effectively, if cute, (and with a whole lot of banjo) but you could never say the show was a downer. Harmony over rhythm is not a crime, and rather than really showcase stardom, it encouraged everyone to sing together. Its schmaltz alright, but it is good schmaltz, and I would argue it was just as much a part of the Camelot and cocktail generation as anything else. A show to encourage group singing was just healthy and democratic. Its not surprising to me that the show ended and the Beatles soared shortly after the death of JFK. Sing alongs are for happy times.
Processing the collection was a very positive experience. The one real ah-hah moment I had came when I realized The Flintstone's Hum Along with Herman episode was based on Sing Along with Mitch. I never knew what roses grew...
Recorded Sound Technician
Library of Congress
Librarian and Archivist
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
Sent: Tuesday, August 03, 2010 1:59 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [ARSCLIST] Mitch Miller RIP
In the (few) obits I've read for Mitch Miller, I didn't see any mention of his early role in Mercury Records, which was important for the young independent company. Miller was an oboe player, Eastman School trained. He was hired at Mercury by John Hammond and he, Hammond and David Hall comprised the company's earliest classical-music staff. Miller recorded an album of oboe/chamber orchestra music for Mercury, as well as worked on the "Charlie Parker with Strings" sessions for Norman Granz. At that time, Granz was affiliated with Mercury.
After Miller went to Columbia and, among many other things, founded the famous 30th Street studio, he continued to moonlight with other projects. One on-going thing for him in the 50's and 60's was conducting, arranging and producing sessions for Little Golden Book kiddie records. He did some of these sessions at Fine Sound and then Fine Recording.
Some of the obits and tributes struck me as very ironic. Miller was portrayed as this old fuddy-duddy of suburbia in the age of rock and roll with his sing-along show. The goatee should have slain that myth. Both Miller and Hammond were cutting-edge dudes in their time, very much on the forefront of music and intellectual thought, and far left of the mainstream in their social and political views. They were progressives before there was such a term.
Mitch Miller did much for the music business, and for Mercury and then Columbia Records. May he rest in peace.
-- Tom Fine