||SING ALONG WITH MITCH
American musical series starring one of the most influential figures in American popular music during the 1950s.
1961 - 1966
Long before karaoke gave would-be singers a chance to stretch their vocal cords, there was Sing Along With Mitch. Every week during the early 1960s, bandleader Mitch Miller told his television viewers to sing along...loud and strong. And if you forgot the words, no need to worry: The lyrics were superimposed on the screen, with an animated bouncing ball helping you keep up with the cast.
Mitchell William Miller (born July 4th, 1911) carved a stellar career for himself as an orchestra leader, and more notably, as producer and the head of Artists and Repertoire for Columbia Records. Miller signed a number of famous artists to the label, including Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Guy Mitchell, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and even Bob Dylan. He also guided the recordings of established Columbia artists, including Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. Middle-of-the-road recordings were Millers stock in trade, and for most of the decade, he did very well with ballads, love songs and an occasional novelty tune (Clooneys Come on-a My House and Mambo Italiano were a few examples of the latter, along with Sinatras Mama Will Bark.)
But Miller had his critics: Music historian Will Friedwald claimed Miller exemplified the worst in American pop. He first aroused the ire of intelligent listeners by trying to turn — and darn near succeeding in turning — great artists...into hacks. Miller chose the worst songs and put together the worst backings imaginable — not with the hit-or-miss attitude that bad musicians... traditionally used, but with insight, forethought, careful planning, and perverted brilliance. On the flip side, Friedwald conceded Miller established the primacy of the producer, proving that even more than the artist, the accompaniment, or the material, it was the responsibility of the man in the recording booth whether a record flew or flopped.
Miller also had hits of his own (1955s The Yellow Rose of Texas was one example) and was an outspoken foe of the rock and roll beat that began hitting the charts in the mid-1950s; he passed on both Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly (Miller did want to sign Presley, but balked at the amount Colonel Tom Parker was asking).
In 1958, Miller began producing a series of albums for Columbia called Sing Along With Mitch, featuring American standards with a chorus. The words to each song were printed on the album cover. They became popular with older listeners who shared Millers distaste of the rock beat. At the same time Sing Along With Mitch hit record stores, CBS aired a music show called Sing Along. Miller had nothing to do with the programme; it was hosted by radio personality Jim Lowe (who had a 1957 record hit with The Green Door). The live Wednesday night show (featuring Florence Henderson as one of its regulars) had guest stars and the studio audience singing to the tunes, with lyrics written on cue cards for the audience. It ran for just six weeks between June and July 1958.
In May 1960, NBC aired Sing Along With Mitch as a one-shot special on its Ford-sponsored variety programme Startime. It proved to be popular enough for NBC to bring back on January 27th, 1961, alternating on Friday nights with the Bell Telephone Hour. The ratings were strong enough for NBC to renew the series and promote it to weekly status in the fall of 1961; following the top-ten Dr. Kildare and Hazel on Thursdays, Sing Along landed in the top 20 during its first full season.
Viewers loved the regular cast, including The Sing Along Gang (a group of male chorus singers who did the main numbers with Miller); up-and-coming female singers Leslie Uggams and Diana Trask; and a pre-teen group of singers known as the Sing Along Kids. (One of the Sing Along Gang members, a personable chap named Bob McGrath, later became a regular cast member of the long-running PBS childrens series Sesame Street.)
During its original run, Sing Along With Mitch featured occasional guest stars–but it was Miller who was the main attraction. He was parodied by comics; The Flintstones aired its own version in one episode, called Hum Along With Herman; and satirist Stan Freberg did a parody of the sing-along program on a February 1962 ABC special entitled The Chun King Chow Mein Hour (after his sponsor).
NBC cancelled Mitch and the gang in 1964, just as The Beatles and other British groups were making a big noise in America. (Sing Along With Mitch was also a victim of demographics; older viewers loved the program but it was not popular with younger viewers, which advertisers desired.) The network aired reruns of Sing Along With Mitch during the summer of 1966. And proving a good format can travel well, British comedian Max Bygraves aired his own version of the American series in the UK, entitled Sing Along With Max.
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