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Tiger Rag Mills Brothers 1932
The Mills Brothers
The early years
The group was originally composed of four brothers all born in Piqua, Ohio, just 25 miles north of Dayton: John Jr. (1911-1936) basso and guitarist, Herbert (1912-1989) tenor, Harry (1913-1982) baritone, and Donald (1915-1999) lead tenor.
They entered an amateur contest at Piqua's Mays Opera House. That fateful day, while on stage, Harry discovered he had lost his kazoo. He cupped his hands to his mouth and imitated a trumpet. The success of his imitation led to all the brothers taking on instruments to imitate and created their early signature sound. John Jr. accompanied the four-part harmony first with a ukulele and then a guitar.
The Rise To Stardom
Then in 1928, after playing May's Opera House in Piqua between Rin Tin Tin features, they accompanied the Harold Greenameyer Band to Cincinnati for an audition with radio station WLW. The Band was not hired, but the Mills brothers were. With the help of Seger Ellis, WLW Cincinnati DJ and a music legend of the '20s, they quickly became local radio stars and got their major break when Duke Ellington and his Orchestra played a date in Cincinnati. When the youngsters sang for Duke, he was so impressed he called Tommy Rockwell at Okeh Records, who signed them and brought the group to New York.
Their very first record recorded for Brunswick, a cover of the Original Dixieland Jass Band standard "Tiger Rag" became a nationwide seller, the only record at that time to sell more than a million copies. They had their own popular radio series in 1932-1933, one of the earliest built around a black act, billed as the "Four Boys and a Guitar". Before their show announcers commonly explained to listeners that the only instrument was a guitar, as the vocal effects made many listeners think they were hearing a muted trumpet, saxophone, and string bass.