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Longing for those carefree days of whistles and songs

POSTED: August 15, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Mitch Miller died the other day. Unfortunately, the popularity of his style of music died many years before.

I have only vague remembrances of watching his TV show, "Sing along with Mitch." In an era when getting words to appear on a television screen involved a very primitive technology, the song lyrics were right there on the screen for us to sing along.

It was pure family stuff. Mitch stayed with friendly fare such as "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue," and "Yellow Rose of Texas."

Mitch, who had a goatee, had a stiff-armed style of directing. We thought Mitch had some magical way of seeing into our homes. He would encourage us to sing along. "You're sounding great, now let's try that second verse," Mitch would say to say to the camera, and to us.

My favorite Mitch Miller song did not involve any singing. It was whistled. Miller and his chorale recorded the "Colonel Bogey March," which was the theme from the classic motion picture, "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

It was a memorable tune. It was also used for about half the silly songs we made up as kids. My favorite was one about Comet, a brand of kitchen and bathroom cleanser. I'll spare you the details.

Miller came along in the era of one TV with three channels. We used to sit in the room together and watch one program. Aside from something like the Super Bowl, I can't remember my family sitting down together to watch a TV show.

We actually sang along with Mitch and Lawrence Welk and other musical variety shows.

We don't sing along with anybody today. And what about whistling? That has gone the way of the T-Model Ford.

When we lived in Atlanta, we had a neighbor who took the city bus to work. In a nod to the era when Atlanta still had streetcars, he still called it the "car line." On his way to and from the car line, he would whistle. In the months when the windows were open, you could just about set your watch by hearing Uncle George whistling down the street.

I attended a church where a man would whistle a hymn from time to time. He would walk up to the pulpit, take off his thick black horn-rimmed glasses, and whistle "His Eye is on the Sparrow." There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Some friends of mine had me down to their place in Adel a few weeks ago. They had a very nice keyboard with all the bells and whistles. They asked me to play a few songs during a nice dinner party. I don't know any songs less than 40 years old, so I was playing the oldies. I watch as people silently moved their lips with the words of songs.

Toward the end of the night, a woman in her 90s led the whole crowd in singing "God Bless America." After that, everybody went home. But they went home smiling.

I hope that somewhere in the preceding 500 words, you smiled at least once. We need it.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.



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