Irving Mills

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Irving Mills

February 21, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Irving Mills
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Irving Mills was one of the significant “behind the scenes” people that played a major role in advancing the careers of many Harlem based musicians during the Harlem Renaissance.

He got involved in music early on by becoming a song plugger for one of the tin pan alley music publishers.

In 1919 he and his brother formed their own publishing company that became Mills Music Inc.. Most known artists were already signed to established publishing companies so Mills had to seek out young unknown talent. Some of his finds included Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields.
He also started his own recording orchestra to get his songs recorded.

In 1925 he happened to hear Duke Ellington at the Kentucky Club near Times Square and was so mesmorized by what Duke was doing he signed him the next day.
Mills and Ellington formed a 50/50 partnership that was very fruitful for both parties.
In 1927 he was instrumental in getting Duke into the Cotton Club which was a major turning point for both men.  The Cotton Club gave the band great exposure launching Duke to international fame.

In addition to the Cotton Club, Mills made sure Duke was recorded prolifically.  Both Ellington and his sidemen recorded for a variety of labels under many different names including The Washingtonians, The Jungle Band, The Whoopee Makers and the Harlem Foot warmers.  Mills even appears as a vocalist with the band on some recordings and is credited as a co-songwriter on such Ellington standards as Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady and Solitude.

In the early thirties, Mills created the Mills Blue Rhythm Band which performed and recorded frequently most notably as one of the relief bands at the Cotton Club.  

He also discovered Blanche and Cab Calloway and inserted Cab into the 1930 Cotton Club review while Duke was on tour.  Mills was involved in writing Minnie the Moocher which was introduced at that show and became a national sensation.

He eventually became the head of the American Record Corporation and in 1943 produced the film Stormy Weather.
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