The Mills Brothers were a pioneering vocal group that rose to prominence in the early 20th century. Comprised of four brothers – John Jr., Herbert, Harry, and Donald – the group became known for their unique vocal harmonies and innovative use of instrumentation. With a career spanning over five decades, the Mills Brothers left an indelible mark on the music industry and continue to be remembered as one of the most influential groups of all time.
The Mills Brothers were born in Piqua, Ohio between 1910 and 1915. Their father, John H. Mills Sr., was a barber who also played guitar and sang in a local quartet. He encouraged his sons to pursue music, and they began performing together as a group in the early 1920s. Initially, they played in local venues and on street corners, but their talent soon caught the attention of a talent scout from Cincinnati.
In 1928, the Mills Brothers signed their first recording contract with Columbia Records. Their debut single, “Tiger Rag,” was an immediate hit, and the group quickly gained a following. They continued to release successful singles throughout the 1930s, including “Dinah,” “Paper Doll,” and “Lazy River.” Their signature style – which featured intricate vocal harmonies and imitations of instruments using only their voices – set them apart from other vocal groups of the time.
The Mills Brothers also experimented with instrumentation, incorporating instruments like the guitar, trumpet, and trombone into their performances. They often used these instruments to create a call-and-response effect with their vocals, further adding to their unique sound. Their innovative approach to music inspired many other artists in the decades that followed.
In addition to their musical accomplishments, the Mills Brothers were also trailblazers in terms of race relations. As African-American performers, they faced discrimination and segregation throughout their careers. However, they refused to let these obstacles hold them back. They toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe, performing for audiences of all races and backgrounds. They also appeared in several films and television shows, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of Black performers.
The Mills Brothers continued to record and perform together until the late 1980s. Over the course of their career, they released over 2,000 recordings and sold millions of albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Today, their influence can still be heard in the music of countless artists across genres.
In conclusion, the Mills Brothers were a groundbreaking vocal group whose impact on music cannot be overstated. Their unique style and innovative approach to instrumentation paved the way for future generations of artists, while their commitment to breaking down racial barriers made them true trailblazers. Though they may be gone, their music continues to inspire and delight audiences to this day.