He’s Singing Along with the Angels Now

Portrait of Frankie Laine and Mitch Miller, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. Photo by William P. Gottlieb

The Music Division was saddened to hear that record producer/ recording artist/television legend Mitch Miller passed away on saturday in Manhattan. Miller lived to the venerable age of 99 years and thus bore witness to nearly a century of popular music history.  As an executive at Mercury and then Columbia records, Miller played a vital part in that history, as much for who he didn’t record – he sent Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly packing –  as for who he did, a roster that featured Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, and, in his last years for the label, Frank Sinatra.  Ol’ Blue Eyes regretted some of the material assigned under Miller’s watch, and it’s difficult to defend “Mama Will Bark,” an infamous duet with singer Dagmar (born with the less exotic name of Virginia Ruth Egnor), but I’ve always been fond of  ”Bim Bam Baby, ” which despite Miller’s resistance to the new music would be as close to rock and roll as Sinatra would get for some time.

Still, it’s hard to deny the romance and lush sound of those Johnny Mathis records, and that sound, Miller’s gift as a producer, will be his legacy long after the bouncing ball and the  Sing Along With Mitch records disappear from our nation’s thrift stores.

The Music Division just announced the the launch of portions of the William P. Gottlieb Collection on Flickr.  Gottlieb was best known for his portraits of jazz legends, but imagine my surprise to find Miller among his subjects. Remember Mitch Miller with this photo from the Gottlieb Collection in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia. The Music Division is home to the Mitch Miller Collection, which consists of fifteen shelves’ worth of arrangements, business correspondence and legal documents. The Library also houses a collection of kinescopes of Miller’s NBC television program  Sing Along With Mitch , which the Library of Congress blog wrote about last year.

3 Comments

  1. Norman Middleton
    August 3, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Many people do not know that Mitch Miller was also quite an accomplished oboe player. So although I loved Mitch’s television show from the 60s, my fondest memory of him was in 1977 when he served as guest conductor during my tenure as solo English Horn in the Halifax Symphony–now Symphony Nova Scotia. During a rehearsal break, Maestro Miller graciously took the time to repair my English horn as I watched. Sure enough, his unorthodox repair methods instantly made it all better!

  2. Pat Padua
    August 3, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Great story Norman! My colleague James also mentioned Miller the oboist – and that he performed on Charlie Parker’s first “Bird with Strings” session!

  3. lentigogirl
    August 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Thanks, Pat. Singing along with Mitch was a vital part of my childhood — and still happens at my mom’s house at Christmas.

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