Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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MILLS, Irving

(b 16 January 1894, NYC; d April 1985) Music publisher, lyricist, manager, sometime vocalist. He was an early champion of Duke Ellington, got the band more lucrative gigs and record contracts, published Duke's music and saw to it that the band travelled in style; had lyrics written for 'Solitude', 'It Don't Mean A Thing', 'I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart', etc. He also managed other lucrative acts including Cab Calloway; he assembled pick-up bands for recording sessions and to promote music he published: hits by Irving Mills and his Hotsy-Totsy Gang included 'Ain't Misbehavin'' '29 with Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, and 'Stardust' '30 with composer Hoagy Carmichael on piano, Jimmy Dorsey on reeds.

Mills backed a Bubber Miley band c.1930; the Mills Blue Rhythm Band '31-7 (aka Harlem Hot Shots, Chocolate Dandies, Earl Jackson and his Musical Champions, Duke Wilson and his Ten Black Berries etc) was also his brainchild, with vocalists including Chick Bullock, Billy Banks ('and his Blue Rhythm Boys') etc; excellent sidemen included Sheldon Hemphill on trumpet (b 16 March 1906, Birmingham AL; d December 1959, NYC), bassist Hayes Alvis (b 1 May 1907, Chicago; d 29 December 1972, NYC) (both later with Ellington), Edgar Hayes, Joe Garland (later got composer credit for classic 'In The Mood'; see Hayes); Mills' arranger was Benny Carter on a '32 date. Excellent compilations are Blue Rhythm '31-2 and Rhythm Spasm '32-3 on Hep CDs; Lucky Millinder took over the band (see his entry, above).

Mills is most famous for his association with Ellington, which ended '39: Mills's Variety and Master labels went broke and anyway Ellington didn't need him any more. Mills made money off Ellington, but in the context of the mid-'20s Ellington might never have made it without Mills's acumen and connections.