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How Mitch Miller Invented Pop Music

Music producer and sing-along man Mitch Miller died this weekend at 99. We talk about how he shaped the modern pop record and changed musical history.

Conductor Mitch Miller amid members of the International Trombone Association, May 5, 1979 in Boston. Miller died July 31, 2010. (AP)

Mitch Miller died this weekend at 99.

Many know him for his television sing-along shows – as a goateed face on the tube commanding you to “come on and sing!” But Miller was much more. As an influential producer in the 50s and 60s, he shaped the careers of singers like Tony Bennett, Johnny Matthis, Rosemary Clooney and more. Also Patti Page and Leslie Uggams, who will join us – as we look at how Miller changed the musical landscape forever.

This hour, On Point: Mitch Miller, the man behind the music.

- Jane Clayson

Guests:

Elijah Wald, music historian and critic. Author of “The Blues: A Very Short Introduction,” “How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music,” and many other books. Has written for the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. He has recorded two albums as a blues guitarist.

Will Friedwald, music historian and critic. Writes for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Sun, and many other publications. His new book, “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz & Pop Singers” will be released in November. He’s also author of “Sinatra! The Song is You, A Singer’s Art” and he collaborated with legendary singer Tony Bennett on his autobiography, “The Good Life.”

Leslie Uggams, actress and singer. As a regular on Mitch Miller’s “Sing Along With Mitch” program on NBC, she was the first African American performer to be featured on a national prime-time television series. She’s also well-known for her Tony award winning performance in the 1967 musical “Hallelujah, Baby,” and her leading role in the miniseries, “Roots.”

Patti Page, legendary American singer – known for hits like “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming,” “Tennessee Waltz,” and “Old Cape Cod.” The top-selling female artist of the 1950s, she worked closely with Mitch Miller, who produced many of her early songs.

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  • john d smith

    Not many who know Mitch’s work remember that he was a part the historic recordings made by the great Charlie”Yardbird” Parker. Mitch Miller was the oboist that embellished several recordings Charlie made with vocals and strings in the late forties. His solo work on these recordings gave them a very unique sound indeed.

  • Melinda Jarboe

    I have great memories of watching the show on a Saturday night as a child. Our family purchased some of his albums (I still have one of them).

  • Stephen Butler

    In the Fall of 1965 I was part of a TV Quiz Show Team with several of my High School classmates. A number of the questions were based on the titles and lyrics of classic songs from my Dad’s “Sing Along With Mitch” records. So we won the competition hands down!

  • Reggie

    I remember my Dad would play “Rambling Rose” on the record player. We had the Mitch Miller records, and we liked to sing….. we still like to sing….heck I sing to my cats!!!

  • Dana Franchitto

    AH yes. I have great memories of Mitch Miller’s music as a kid, but nonetheless it saddens me as an adukt that one fo the great musical minds of the 20th century did produce so much schlock. It’s sort of like eating a whoopee pie as opposed to an eclair from a north end bakery: ) RIP Mitch Miller

  • MThorne

    I too have great memories of watching Mitch Miller during my childhood. That’s why it’s all the more disappointing to hear today’s On Point’s announcer sound like she’s drawn the short straw with this assignment — little interest in the topic, and several times referred to him as “Mitch Williams.”

  • Bill

    When I heard the hour was going to be devoted to Mitch Miller I almost turned it off, thinking that I had no interest and would find it all boring. I’m glad I left it on. I thought it was a great discussion. The guests were terrific.

  • Ilona

    I loved Mitch Miller and remember singing along to his show and records. Knowing that the show was on in the early 60′s, I’m a little surprised that I remember considering I was 5-6 years old. I sent my 28 year-old-daughter a You Tube link so she could see what Mom used to watch on TV. It does seem a bit creepy in retrospect! I do wish the interviewer (who I normally like better than Tom Ashcroft) remembered Mitch’s name.

  • Nancy Ryther

    I just listened to the program with Jane (?) interviewing a couple of men regarding Mitch Miller. I was appalled at the interview where the guests obviously had little or no respect for the music of the man, Mitch Miller, and didn’t consider his work to be a contribution to the arts or to the industry. What was even more appalling was the fact that Jane Doe could not seem to remember that his name was Mitch MILLER, constantly referring to him as Mitch WILLIAMS. She had to be corrected by the only guest that seemed to respect Mr. Miller, Leslie Uggams, and still, Jane Doe could not remember his name. Shameful.
    Mitch Miller provided great music for the classical music lovers, but did not ignore the common man, the need of ordinary, musically unschooled people to sing, listen, sway to the rhythms and smile wistfully at the sentimentalities of everyday songs.
    NPR, you need to be more sensitive in your selection of hosts and guests. I was insulted by the tone of this program tonight.

  • Mitch Williams

    Mitch M-I-L-L-E-R

  • Stanley Greene

    Re: The Mitch Miller retrospect

    I thoroughly enjoyed your program about Mitch Miller. My wife was his secretary in the mid 50′s and she much joy helping the artists audition new songs. His work also extended somewhat into the cast recordings made under the direction of Goddard Lieberson.

    Mitch loved to cook and his salads were delectible. Never the shy one, he truly took delight in receiving the “hellos” from all the cab drivers as he walked along. He was so proud of his accomplishments on the oboe. I shall never forget the advice he gave me about raising our daughter.

    Stanley Greene

  • Ishmael

    Miller’s music is evidently kind of a tonal Rorschach, based on all of the different appraisals of it.

    Can’t imagine people actually sitting there in living rooms literally singing along, but what the hey, whatever tightens your spark plugs; would probably have been fun with the right group ….. Fun guy, unique television show. Have learned much about his professionalism and musical background from this interview. All you really saw on television was this guy directing a chorus of singers.

  • victoria

    BUT WHO INVENTED POP MUSIC??????????????????

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