The lighting of the downtown New Bedford Christmas tree has always been a special occasion. I'm a sap for tradition, especially at the holidays, but for some time the tree lighting ceremonies were extra special.

Those were the years New Bedford got to sing along with Mitch.

Mitchell William Miller, born July 4, 1911, was an American choral conductor, record producer, record industry executive and professional oboist. Miller arraigned music for artists such as Frank Sinatra, with whom he rarely saw eye to eye.

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Miller was influential on the American pop music scene in the 1950s and early '60s as head of A&R at Columbia Records. His weekly television series Sing Along With Mitch was a hit for NBC.

I grew up watching Sing Along With Mitch on TV. My parents had a few of his albums, including the 1958 release Christmas Sing Along With Mitch, which was also a monster hit.

Courtesy Susan Kosior-Medeiros
Courtesy Susan Kosior-Medeiros

For nine consecutive Christmas seasons between 1978 and 1986, Mitch Miller would come to New Bedford for the annual lighting of the city's Christmas tree on the front steps of the Free Public Library on Pleasant Street.

Miller would flip the switch to light the giant tree and then lead thousands of spirited fans in a sing-along of Christmas favorites with Christmas Sing Along With Mitch blaring from speakers on the stage.

When New Bedford Sang Along With Mitch Miller At Christmas
New Bedford Cable Network Photo

Every year, there was plenty of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows to help warm the soul, if not the hands, of the citizen singers.

According to the Standard-Times, Miller drew a crowd of 14,000 people to the sing-along one year but ended the event in 1986 when he and the sponsor decided the money it cost could benefit needy folks more.

Miller died on July 31, 2010. He was 99.

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