I always enjoyed watching "Sing Along With Mitch" - and I was ten years old when the show started. I had a wonderful time watching with my family and sometimes with other relatives. There was something magic about this show.
Part of the appeal was the magnetic Mitch Miller, all smiles with his goatee and balding hairline. He played the oboe, not the most common instrument, and made it sound really good. He had a chorus of about 40 men, with a richer sound than a barbershop quartet. There was an orchestra, and often a banjo or harmonica, but the emphasis was on the singing.
The main part of the show was Mitch leading the chorus in old songs, from (I'm guessing)the 1840s through about the 1920s. Mitch conducted the audience with his famous up-and-down motion as "the bouncing ball" illustrated the words being sung. Was this the inspiration for Karaoke? These were mostly traditional songs, but he made them sound brand new. Some of the songs included "When You're Smiling," "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," "Casey Would Dance with the Strawberry Blonde," "The Yellow Rose of Texas," and of course the rousing "Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends!"
"Sing Along with Mitch was way better than "The Lawrence Welk Show." It moved at a much faster pace and was much more original.
They also did some skits, usually working in some music. One that I remember had Mitch with his oboe joining a four-man band looking for work during the hard times of the 1930s. A theater called up and asked them to play a sample. Of course Mitch's oboe stood out in the number, but the caller said "OK, I'll hire four." Naturally, the four mediocre guys ran off to take the gig without Mitch. Leslie Uggams performed some musical numbers. I didn't realize at the time that having an African-American person on TV was still considered controversial, but she was a wonderful singer.
Mitch became a national phenomenon, as well known at he time as the Ed Sullivan Show or the Jackie Gleason Show. Even my dear old MAD Magazine had a parody called "Sing Along With MAD" with a goateed Alfred E. Newman leading you in song. In fact, Mitch Miller and the Gang made the theme song for "The Longest Day," one of the best World War Two films ever.
Mitch and the gang made a number of albums, AND I have even seen some available today on CD. His Holiday Album will put you in the mood for Christmas and Santa. Even today, it isn't Christmas until we play `Must be Santa' - on vinyl. Even my son and daughter when they were a bit younger liked that album, although modern grade-schoolers like rock and roll. I got them away from The New Kids on the Block and Vanilla Ice long enough to get in the Christmas Spirit.
I started liking Rock and Roll when I was fourteen, and I stopped watching Mitch. Sorry. Well, the Beatles were something new, and they cheered us up after we lost John F. Kennedy. But through all the years of Jefferson Airplane, the Moody Blues, Aerosmith and other rockers, the magic of "Sing Along with Mitch" still lives on. I haven't seen reruns lately, but I had seen it as an adult in the 1980s and I still loved it. I wish some cable channel would bring it back.
Mitch Miller is still alive, about 90. A classically trained serious musician, he has conducted the Boston Pops and other Orchestras. God bless you, Mitch! You brought smiles to many people!!
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