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Mitch Miller, an oboist, conductor, record industry executive, and television host who powerfully shaped American musical tastes during the early 1960s with his NBC television series, Sing Along with Mitch, died at 99 on this date in 2010. At Columbia Records, Miller helped shape the careers Doris Day, Dinah Shore, Jo Stafford, and Aretha Franklin, while passing on opportunities to sign both Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He was a hateful opponent of rock and roll, which he called “musical baby food: it is the worship of mediocrity, brought about by a passion for conformity.” He own musical tastes were quite cheesy, however, tending towards novelty songs and relentless good cheer. Writes music critic Will Friedwald, Miller “first aroused the ire of intelligent listeners by trying to turn -- and darn near succeeding in turning -- great artists like Sinatra, Clooney, and Tony Bennett into hacks. Miller chose the worst songs and put together the worst backings imaginable . . . with insight, forethought, careful planning, and perverted brilliance.” Sing Along with Mitch featured him with a chorus and bouncing ball lyrics at the bottom of the television screen. The show ran for three years and was the victim of the rise of . . . rock and roll. To see an episode featuring Shirley Temple, look below. “Keep it simple, keep it sexy, keep it sad.” --Mitch Miller
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.