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Alan Mills

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Born Albert Miller in Montreal in 1913, Alan Mills was, at one time, the most popular folksinger in Canada. He trained as a journalist and worked for the Montreal Gazette, when the opportunity to sing came along in the early '30s -- he walked away from the writing to go on tour singing in a classical idiom, with the London Singers under John Goss, who toured both Canada and the United States in the mid-'30s. After the war, he resumed singing in the classical field, appearing in productions of The Magic Flute and Madame Butterfly through the Opera Guild of Montreal, but in 1947 he accepted an engagement with the CBC as a folksinger on radio, and this proved his popular breakthrough -- he subsequently recorded for RCA Victor of Canada, doing a collection of songs for children called Let's Sing a Little, and in the early '50s recorded a string of folk albums for Folkways Records, specifically devoted to Canadian songs -- his frequent accompanist was Gilbert "Buck" LaCombe. His other work included Songs de Chez Nous in collaboration with Hélène Baillargeon and the Art Morrow Singers. Mills later toured Europe and was well known in the United States as well, and he was extremely well received at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, where he appeared with Jean Carignan, a performance that was later released by Vanguard Records. He also scored a hit as a songwriter during the folk revival of the 1950s when his song "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," written in collaboration with Rose Bonne, was taken up by legions of folkies young and old, including Burl Ives, then one of the most popular folksingers in the world. In addition to his music, Mills did some acting and also wrote plays, including Ti-Jean and the Devil, based on a French-Canadian folk tale originally told to him by Carignan. In addition to popularizing Canadian folklore throughout his career, he was also a major contributor to the nine-volume Canadian Folk Songs: A Centennial Collection, released by RCA. He was also responsible for publishing several very popular collections of folk songs from the end of the 1940s through the 1960s, especially aimed at young listeners. ~ Bruce Eder

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07 September 1913 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Years Active:

'40s, '50s, '60s, '70s