Eastman School of Music alumnus and legendary conductor Mitch Miller died Saturday, July 31, at Lenox Hill Hospital after a short illness. He was 99 years old.
During the 1950s and 60s, Miller was a best-selling recording artist and creator of the popular television series Sing Along with Mitch.
"Mitch Miller will be remembered as an American original," said Douglas Lowry, dean of the Eastman School. "He was musically opinionated and passionate. He had an extraordinary intuition for the essence of music, a nose for talent, and a breadth of musical experience that spanned classical to pop. He was an extraordinary oboist and conductor, discovered artists like Patti Page and Percy Faith and Tony Bennett, and his recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris are still widely regarded today as the best ever. That kind of musical bandwidth is hard to come by."
A self-proclaimed "product of the Rochester public school music system," Miller was born in Rochester to working-class immigrant parents. He began playing the oboe at age 12, ultimately earning his bachelor's degree with distinction from the Eastman School in 1932.
He then moved to New York City where he began a tremendously varied career — as a great classical oboist, a successful record company executive, a network TV star, founder and music director of Little Golden Records, and a much-loved symphonic and pops conductor — that ultimately spanned more than seven decades and has made him one of the most colorful and accomplished musicians in America.
"Mitch Miller was a pioneer in American popular music who helped transform our appreciation of how music enriches our lives," said President Joel Seligman.
"As a distinguished alumnus of the Eastman School, he represented the ideals of musicianship and engagement that are the hallmarks of our University. Our hearts go out to the Miller family."
In September of 2004, Miller returned to his hometown and his alma mater for a special ceremony. Eastman Place, the Eastman School building at 25 Gibbs Street which houses the Sibley Music Library, school administrative offices, and several businesses, was renamed the Miller Center in honor of Miller's parents, Abram Calmen and Hinda Rosenblum Miller.
Miller had many connections to the Rochester area. His father was a wrought iron worker whose labor is reflected in street signs around the city, notably in the Browncroft neighborhood, and in the fence at Mt. Hope Cemetery. His brother Leon Miller is a professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at the Medical Center.