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The Mills Brothers

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The Mills Brothers, sometimes billed as The Four Mills Brothers, were a U.S. jazz and pop vocal quartet.

The group was originally composed of four brothers all born in Piqua, Ohio: John Jr (1911-1936) basso and guitarist, Herbert (1912-1989) tenor, Harry (1913-1982) baritone, and Donald (1915-1999) lead tenor. Their father owned a barber’s shop, and founded a barbershop quartet called the Four Kings of Harmony. As the boys grew older, they began singing in the choir of the Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church and in the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Piqua. After their lessons at the Spring Street Grammar School, they would gather in front of their father’s shop on Public Square or at the corner of Greene and Main to sing and play the kazoo to passersby.

They entered an amateur contest at Piqua’s Mays Opera House, but 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. They practised imitating orchestras they heard on the radio. John, as the bass, would imitate the tuba, Harry, a baritone, imitated the trumpet, Herbert became the second trumpet, and Donald the trombone.

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