An American music icon was honored at Eastman on Sept. 9. Eastman Place, across from the Eastman School of Music on Gibbs Street, was renamed the Miller Center after Mitch Miller and his family.

Miller is not only an Eastman graduate from the class of 1932, but is also a native of Rochester.He renamed Eastman Place the Miller Center in memory of his parents, both immigrants who helped to build Rochester into what it is today. His father was an iron worker whose work still remains in Rochester, and his mother was a seamstress.

Born on July 4, 1911, he became musically inspired at a young age. He started piano at the age of six, and took up oboe at age 12.

Miller graduated from East High School in Rochester, which commemorated Miller at its 100th Anniversary this past summer. Miller speaks highly of his public school education. Back in the 1920s, Rochester’s public schools were at such a high level that they served as a model for the rest of the country. Miller recalls the music program as being extraordinary, as well as his general education, and is disheartened at what he has seen since those days.

Accepted at Eastman for the oboe, Miller made a major impression at the Eastman School of Music. He studied with former oboe professor Arthur Forman, and was involved in many different performance groups. He played in the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra, the Phi Mu Alpha Little Symphony, was in an extremely active woodwind quintet and even had professional engagements with the Syracuse Symphony and the Rochester Symphony.

An advocate of new music, Miller played premieres of pieces by Eastman students Robin Milford and Irving McHose in addition to pieces by Alec Wilder.

After graduating with honors, he took a job at CBS in their music department. He started off there as a successful classical musician, even playing with the CBS Orchestra, but then left CBS to join the Mercury Record Label as the head of its pop music division. Goddard Lieberson, a close college friend of his from Eastman, became the president of CBS and persuaded Miller to come back to CBS, this time as the head of its pop music division.

In this position, Miller famously signed artists like Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Tony Bennett, Johnny Ray and Rosemary Clooney among others.

In the 1950s, Miller branched off with his own pop and recording career, leading to the TV show “Sing Along With Mitch.” In this show, one could expect to hear a variety of “camp” songs, some which even date from before the 1900s. Some famous songs were “Be Kind to Our Web-Footed Friends” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”

Around the 1960s, CBS became more interested in signing newer acts – rock acts. Miller was an expert on music that the adults of the time liked, such as classical, jazz and even country music, but disliked rock music and was unfamiliar with the newest emerging trends. He even turned down signing Buddy Holly to the label. His TV show was cancelled in 1966, and Miller left CBS that year.

Since then, Miller has continued to perform and teach and has become well-known as a Pops Conductor. He was also awarded the 2000 Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

This past Thursday, many government officials as well as his very own friends and family came to honor the commemoration of the former Eastman Place. Each talked about the impact that Miller and his family have had on Rochester. They even mentioned that people often recognize Rochester not by Kodak, but from the name Mitch Miller. It was clear that Miller’s roots have been well preserved, and he will not be forgotten.

Mitch himself stood up to speak. Dean and Director James Undercofler mentioned that he often got very blunt answers from Miller. This could be seen in his speech. Concerned with the lack of funding and continuation of arts institutes, he stood up in front of the many important New York State and Rochester government officials there that day and told them point-blank that they need to preserve the arts and give more money to arts institutions.

“For every dollar and arts institution raises, the state should match it!” Miller said.

He even preached to the audience about morals, “Do what is good for family and friends – you can’t go wrong.”

When asked what words of wisdom he could give to current Eastman students, Miller just suggested that we “live life as a nun” until the government consents to fund the arts more. He left saying that artistic enterprise and education is important and that we should all be fighting for it.

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