Mitch Miller, the goateed orchestra leader who asked Americans to ``Sing Along With Mitch'' on TV has died at age 99. Miller was a key record executive at Columbia Records in the pre-rock 'n' roll era, making hits with singers Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett.
As a producer and arranger, Miller had misses along with his hits, famously striking out on projects with Frank Sinatra and a young Aretha Franklin.
"He is an odd-looking man," New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in 1962. "His sharp beard, twinkling eyes, wrinkled forehead and mechanical beat make him look like a little puppet as he peers hopefully into the camera. By now most of us are more familiar with his tonsils than with those of our families." Atkinson went on to say that as a musician, Miller was "first rate," praising "the clean tone of the singing, the clarity of the lyrics, the aptness of the tempos, the variety and the occasional delicacy of the instrumental accompaniment."
An accomplished oboist, Miller played in a number of orchestras early in his career, including one put together in 1934 by George Gershwin.
The years of Miller's biggest successes were also the early years of rock 'n' roll, and many fans saw his old-fashioned arrangements of standards and folk favorites as an antidote to the noisy stuff the teens adored. As an executive at Columbia, Miller would be widely ridiculed for trying to turn a young Aretha Franklin into a showbiz diva in the tradition of Sophie Tucker.
In recent years, Miller returned to his classical roots, appearing frequently as a guest conductor with symphony orchestras. In 2000, he won a special Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.