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Mitch Miller, RIP

MITCH MILLER, for a time the most powerful A&R executive in the business, who fought a losing battle on behalf of old-fashioned pop against encroaching rock & roll, died on Sunday in New York City at the age of 99. A onetime oboist from Rochester, NY, Miller came into the public eye in 1958, during his tenure as A&R head and staff producer at Columbia Records, when he hatched the album series Sing Along With Mitch, which became a prime-time NBC TV series, as Mitch Miller and the Gang serenaded viewers with chestnuts from “Home on the Range” to “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary.” Not surprisingly, the critics were dismissive. Brooks Atkinson wrote in 1962 that Sing Along With Mitch might best be viewed with the sound turned off." The show came a few years after Your Hit Parade, which set the template for non-threatening white people singing wholesome songs, though Miller's show dealt in chestnuts (and introduced young black singer Leslie Uggams), while Your Hit Parade covered the hits of the day. At his day job, Miller worked with singers like Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Patti Page, Frankie Laine and Jimmy Boyd, the one-hit wonder who sang “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Miller began his career at Mercury in the ’40s, in 1950 accepting an offer from Columbia EVP Goddard Lieberson, his fomer classmate at the Eastman School of Music. While at Columbia, he helped define American popular music in the postwar, pre-rock era, playing a crucial role in making Columbia the top-selling label at the end of the 1950s. (8/3a)

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