obituary: the world’s most famous oboist

August 15 2010

American musical icon Mitch Miller recently passed away at the age of 99 a couple of weeks ago – which has given me cause to reflect the rich 20th century musical history and culture which is barely passed down to my generation (whether it be through institutionalised education, the artistic elite, or through popular culture).  I first learnt about Miller around 12 months ago through my fascination through the music of Alec Wilder, and was shocked that I hadn’t come across someone so significant before.

Miller will best be remembered through his iconic Sing Along With Mitch t.v. show in the 1960s, which was credited for popularising the ‘bouncing ball’ as an audience guide to following lyrics.  He ‘discovered’ Aretha Franklin, and produced/signed iconic singers such as Doris Day and Tony Bennett.  He was a noted conductor and for at least one generation was a household name.  There is an obituary for Miller here.

I think Miller exemplifies the chasm between institutionalised art and the real world.  Mitch Miller was a musical identity – familiar to many, and someone who brought music into the homes of everyday people.  On the other hand, within the culture of the artistic establishment he is someone who is rarely mentioned (if even thought of).  Mitch Miller began his career as a classical oboe player (and it was his performance in the Alec Wilder Octet’s where I first came across him).  In this sense, it’s ironic that Miller is possibly the ‘real’ world’s most well known oboist, at least amongst those who remember Sing Along With Mitch.

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