Be Kind to Your Web-Posting Friends

Cover of Sing Along with Mitch Miller albumInteractivity with one’s television or computer is normal, today. But there was a time–in a day when talking back to the tube would mark you as a bit odd–when families in the United States gathered to interact with their television receivers in a big way:

They sang along with Mitch.

Between 1961 and 1965, many Americans young and old learned the tunes and lyrics to a raft of “standards” watching a black-and-white NBC-TV show featuring a guy named Mitch Miller. The goateed Miller (off-camera, a high-profile record producer) would choral-direct “The Gang,” tidy rows of men wearing tidy shirts, sweaters and slacks. In a baritone barrage, they’d lay down a melody, breaking into simple-but-tasteful harmony on the choruses. These were songs every American was presumed to just know, but for those who didn’t, the words were flashed at the bottom of the TV screen. And if you were a kid and didn’t know the songs yet, after learning them from Mitch and The Gang you could enjoy your newfound knowledge of the tunes when Mad Magazine recycled them into satirical songs with ridiculous new lyrics.

The Library of Congress recently acquired more than 300 reels of 16-millimeter kinescopes of “Sing Along With Mitch,” to be housed in the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. After cataloging, a process expected to take several months, the collection will be available to researchers via the Performing Arts Reading Room on Capitol Hill. These kinescopes no doubt include this favorite, sung to a tune from John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”:

Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody’s mother;

Be kind to your friends in the swamp, where the weather is very very dawmp.

Now you may think that this is the end …

Well, it is!

7 Comments

  1. lentigogirl
    July 23, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    And Mitch would say “follow the bouncing ball” as an animated ball bounced along the captioned lyrics.

    The singers were not just men. The show broke new ground by integrating the chorus with an African American woman, Leslie Uggams, in the very early 1960s.

  2. Sarah
    July 23, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I end up answering a lot of musical trivia questions at work, and just after the inaugural I was forwarded an email asking what that song was that went “a duck may be somebody’s mother,” and why it was played so many times that day. I got to explain it was the national march.

  3. Jennifer Gavin
    July 23, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Thanks, lentigogirl, for making that excellent point!

  4. John Sayers
    July 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Growing up, we had an album of Mitch and the Gang singing Christmas songs. Still the best stuff around.

  5. JoAnn Anglin
    July 26, 2009 at 9:20 am

    That program is how I learned many of those songs as a teen, and they later became the tunes for rocking my babies, and now grandbabies, to rest or sleep.

  6. GaryM
    August 3, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Further trivia for lentigogirl: Miller snagged the line “Follow the bouncing ball” from an old series of theatrical cartoons called “Screen Song,” each of which featured a song which the audience was urged to sing along with, with lyrics on the screen as on Mitch Miller’s show.

  7. Jay Morrow
    June 27, 2015 at 9:56 am

    When I was small, my dad used to read the Pogo comic strip to me on Sunday’s. I’ve always thought that the lyrics originated there in the Okeefanokee with Pogo, Albert the Allegator, Churchy LaFeemi and the other characters of the swamp.

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