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Mitch Miller dies at 99

  Mitch Miller, pictured in 1968.  (Associated Press)
Mitch Miller, pictured in 1968. (Associated Press)

Legendary producer hosted ‘Sing Along’

LOS ANGELES – Mitch Miller, who helped shape musical tastes in the 1950s and early ’60s as the head of the popular music division at Columbia Records and hosted the hit “Sing Along With Mitch” TV show in the early ’60s while becoming one of the era’s most commercially successful recording artists, has died. He was 99.

Miller died Saturday after a short illness at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said his daughter, Margaret Miller Reuther.

A show business icon with his trademark goatee and baton, Miller is considered one of the most influential producers in the history of recording.

He made a career switch from playing to producing in the late 1940s by becoming A&R (artists and repertoire) director at Mercury Records, a small label that he turned into a major force in the industry.

At Mercury, Miller nurtured the careers of such singers as Vic Damone, Patti Page and Frankie Laine.

But it was at Columbia Records from 1950 to the early 1960s that Miller became a recording industry legend.

As Columbia’s high-profile A&R head responsible for single popular records, Miller produced a string of hits for Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Jo Stafford, Johnnie Ray, Jerry Vale, Johnny Mathis, the Four Lads, Laine, Damone and many other artists.

More than 22 million copies of the series of “Sing Along with Mitch” albums were sold and for nearly a decade Miller reportedly was the best-selling album artist, until the Beatles displaced him in 1974.

He also had a number of hit instrumentals, including the “Colonel Bogey March” from “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”