Musician, Musical Artist
1917 – 2002
Who was George Mitchell?
George Mitchell, was a Scottish musician, best known for having devised the long-running The Black and White Minstrel Show.
He was born in Falkirk, Scotland. Mitchell's grandfather was well-known Scottish choir master John Laing, and both of his parents were amateur singers. He was educated at Southgate County School in North London. Mitchell was a pianist before his World War II military service. During the war, he served with the Royal Army Pay Corps at Finsbury Circus. This posting enabled him to organise choirs within the armed forces and put on shows at the Cripplegate Theatre among others. After the war he formed the George Mitchell Choir for BBC radio. After some success, the name was changed to the George Mitchell Glee Club, and it continued in that form until 1957, when the George Mitchell Minstrels were created. In 1958, the Minstrels, in red make-up which looked black on camera, transferred to television. The show was an enormous hit, with a peak viewing audience of 16.5 million viewers in 1964. It won the Golden Rose of Montreux for Best TV Show in the World in 1961.
The show appeared in a prime-time slot for twenty years, but during the 1970s its popularity declined, partly because of the style of music becoming dated and partly because of an increase in racial awareness. It was axed by the BBC after several unsuccessful attempts to change the format. Mitchell was awarded the OBE in 1975. The minstrel show continued to be performed on stage until 1992. After George Mitchell retired to the United States, his son, Rob Mitchell, led the ensemble in his place.
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