Born Albert Cernick, Mitchell was an enormously popular singer in the USA and especially the UK, particularly during the 50s, with a straightforward style, rich voice and affable personality. Although his birthplace is often given as Yugoslavia, his parents' homeland, Mitchell confirmed in a 1988 UK interview that he was born in Detroit, and was brought up there until the family moved to Colorado, and then to Los Angeles, California, when he was 11 years old. In Los Angeles, he successfully auditioned for Warner Brothers Records and, for the next few years, was groomed for a possible movie career as a child star, in addition to singing on the Hollywood radio station KFWB. The possibility of the world having another Mickey Rooney was averted when the family moved again, this time to San Francisco. Mitchell became an apprentice saddle-maker, and worked on ranches and in rodeos in the San Joaquin Valley, and also sang on cowboy singer Dude Martin's radio show. His affection for country music stayed with him for the remainder of his career. After a spell in the US Navy, Mitchell joined pianist Carmen Cavallaro, and made his first records with the band, including 'I Go In When The Moon Comes Out' and 'Ah, But It Happens'. He then spent some time in New York, making demonstration records, and also won first place on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show. In 1949, he recorded a few tracks for King Records, which were subsequently reissued on Sincerely Yours when Mitchell became successful.
In 1950, he was signed to Columbia Records by Mitch Miller, who is said to have been responsible for changing Cernick to Mitchell, Miller's full given name. Their first success came in 1950, with 'My Heart Cries For You' and 'The Roving Kind', which were followed by a string of hits throughout the decade, mostly jaunty novelty numbers, usually with Miller arrangements that used French horns to considerable effect. Several of the songs were written by Bob Merrill, including 'Sparrow In The Tree Top', 'Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania', 'My Truly, Truly Fair', 'Feet Up (Pat Him On The Po-Po)', 'Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle' and 'She Wears Red Feathers', which contained the immortal Merrill couplet: 'An elephant brought her in, placed her by my side/While six baboons got out bassoons, and played 'Here Comes The Bride'!' Other US Top 30 entries during this period included 'You're Just In Love', a duet with another Miller protégée, Rosemary Clooney, 'Christopher Columbus', 'Unless' (a 30s Tolchard Evans number), 'Sweetheart Of Yesterday', 'There's Always Room At Our House', 'I Can't Help It', 'Day Of Jubilo', "Cause I Love You, That's A-Why', 'Tell Us Where The Good Times Are' (the latter two duets with Mindy Carson) and 'Ninety-Nine Years (Dead Or Alive)'. 'Singing The Blues' (with Ray Conniff And His Orchestra) became his most successful record, staying at number 1 in the US charts for 10 weeks in 1956. In the UK, Tommy Steele had a hit with his cover version, but Mitchell also succeeded by reaching number 1. Further infectious hits followed: 'Knee Deep In The Blues', the irritatingly catchy 'Rock-A-Billy' ('rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy, rock-a-billy rock, rock-a-billy rock-a-billy, ooh rock rock'), and his last US chart entry in 1959, 'Heartaches By The Number' (number 1). Of the aforementioned singles, six sold over a million copies. Most of Mitchell's US hits were also successful in the UK, where he was highly popular, touring regularly, appearing at the London Palladium for the first time in 1952, and performing at the 1954 Royal Variety Performance. Additional chart entries in the UK included 'Pretty Little Black-Eyed Susie', 'Look At That Girl' (number 1), 'Cloud Lucky Seven', 'Cuff Of My Shirt','A Dime And A Dollar' and 'Chicka Boom'. The latter was featured in Mitchell's first movie, a 3-D musical entitled Those Redheads From Seattle (1953), with Rhonda Fleming, Gene Barry and Teresa Brewer. Brewer and Mitchell proved a pleasant combination on the Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael song 'I Guess It Was You All The Time'. In 1954, Mitchell appeared with Gene Barry again, in the spoof western movie Red Garters, which also starred Rosemary Clooney, and contained another Mitchell 'special', 'A Dime And A Dollar'. In contrast to the somewhat perky style, so effective on his singles, some of Mitchell's albums revealed him to be an excellent ballad singer, particularly A Guy In Love, with Glenn Osser And His Orchestra, which contained standards such as 'The Moon Got In My Eyes','Allegheny Moon', 'East Of The Sun' and 'East Side Of Heaven'. Sunshine Guitar, with its guitar choir, was 'carefree and breezy, full of innocent gaiety', with a country 'feel' on several of the numbers.
With the 60s beat boom imminent, Mitchell's contract with Columbia ended in 1962, and he released some singles on the Joy and Reprise Records labels. In 1967, he signed for the Nashville-based Starday label, but shortly after his Traveling Shoes and Singin' Up A Storm were released, the company went out of business. During some periods of the 60s and 70s, Mitchell ceased performing. He issued only a few tracks on his own GMI label - partly because of poor health and serious alcohol problems. In 1979, he toured Australia, and started to play nightclubs in the USA. In the 80s he made several appearances in the UK, and released the old Elvis Presley favourite 'Always On My Mind', backed with 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' from the Bette Midler hit movie Beaches. This was followed by A Garden In The Rain, a set of UK numbers that included 'My Kind Of Girl','Yesterday','I Hadn't Anyone Till You' and Noël Coward's theme tune, 'I'll See You Again'. In the 90s, the old hits were still being repackaged and sold to a younger audience following Mitchell's appearance in John Byrne's UK television drama Your Cheatin' Heart, in 1990. During the filming in the UK he took the opportunity to play a number of country festival gigs.
In 1991, during a tour of Australia Mitchell had a horse-riding accident that resulted in serious internal injuries. He spent some time in intensive care but made a complete recovery. In 1997, he was diagnosed as having leukemia and started a course of treatment. He had a loyal following in the UK (where arguably he was more popular); these devotees of 50s nostalgia subscribe to a regular magazine Mitchell Music - it is remarkable that their enthusiasm remains as strong nearly 50 years after his heyday. Mitchell typified 50s pop more than any other performer, and his catalogue of hits remains formidable. His work is destined to endure way beyond his death in 1999.
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