They gave their first public performances in variety shows on the radio in Cincinnati , Ohio. In about they moved to New York City , where they became the first African American singers to have their own national radio show. They were also a hit on records and in live performances, and they appeared in several films, including The Big Broadcast and Broadway Gondolier John C.
They continued mostly in the hot-jazz style, with a strong emphasis on scat singing and instrumental imitations, and made records with such artists as Louis Armstrong , Duke Ellington , Ella Fitzgerald , and the Boswell Sisters. In the mids they dropped the instrumental imitations and became a more-conventional vocal group, backed by a regular rhythm section or an orchestra. John H. Mills retired in , and the brothers continued as a trio, recording and performing regularly into the s.
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They had been called the "Four Boys and a Guitar" on their Sunday shows. When Paley heard their performance, he immediately went downstairs and put them on the air. The next day, the Mills Brothers signed a three-year contract and became the first African-Americans to have a network show on radio.
Their first recording for Brunswick Records , a cover of the Original Dixieland Jass Band standard " Tiger Rag ", became a nationwide best-seller and a no. They remained on Brunswick until late , when they signed with Decca , where they stayed well into the s.
On all of their Brunswick records, as well as the early Deccas, the label stated, "No musical instruments or mechanical devices used on this recording other than one guitar".
From to they had a radio series in which they were billed as the "Four Boys and a Guitar". Before their show announcers explained to listeners that the only instrument was a guitar, as the vocal effects made many listeners think they were brass instruments.
They began appearing in films. While performing in England, John Jr. He died in the beginning of Their father, John Sr. We left England for the last time just three days before war was declared on Germany and the only boat we could get was to Australia. We were overseas from then on except for two months in and then we went back to South America.
We didn't get back until In the meantime the Ink Spots were coming up, and people had sort of forgotten us. In the period between John Jr.
Gene Smith served as a stand-in for one year when Harry was drafted into the Army.
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