Guy Mitchell was born Al Cernick
on February 27, 1927 in Detroit, Michigan. When Guy was 11 years old the
family moved to Los Angeles. On the train journey to Los Angeles a passenger
told Guy's mother that her son had a beautiful voice and when they got
settled in Los Angeles she should contact him. True to his word, he arranged
an audition with Warner Brothers who signed Guy to a contract for grooming
as a child star.
Guy took acting, dancing, voice,
and diction lessons, and sang on the studios radio station. Country singer
Dude Martin invited Guy to appear regularly on his two radio shows.
In 1947 Guy joined Carmen Cavallaro's
orchestra as a vocalist and made his first recording for Decca Records.
In 1949 Guy was a winner on the....Arthur Godfrey talent Scouts. In 1948
he recorded two songs with Mitch Miller for Columbia Records.....My Heart
Cries For You and The Roving Kind. Both songs made the top five on the
Guy's first number one hit....Singing
The Blues....came in 1956 and was the first of six singles in the rock
era to have a nine week run at number one. Elvis Presley's....Too Much....ended
the nine week streak. In 1959 Guy had his second number one hit....Heartaches
By The Number.
Guy pursued dual careers during
the fifties and sixties. All the time he was having hits on the charts,
he was also working full time as an actor. He made movies with Teresa Brewer
and Rosemary Clooney to name a few. He also had his own television show
Guy made three tours of England.
In 1952, he filled in for Jack Benny at the London Palladium. Two years
later he was invited, along with Frankie Lane, to sing for Queen Elizabeth
II and had his own one-hour British TV special.
To some listeners, the name Guy Mitchell
evokes contempt--as the singer whose pop-styled covers of "Singin' The
Blues" and "Knee Deep In The Blues" cut the legs out from under Marty Robbins'
country-styled original renditions. To others, Mitchell evokes the last
period of America's innocence, the mid-1950's, when he periodically ascended
the pop charts in the company of singers like Frankie Laine. Mitchell was
all of those things and more, in some ways a trail- blazer-- he was the
first major recording artist whose career was crafted in the studio, by
a record company, and sold to the public by way of records and the radio,
not concerts. He was the precursor to the late 1950's teen idols crafted
by the industry as an alternative to the burgeoning success of rock 'n
roll. In contrast to some of the younger male singing idols of that era,
however, Mitchell had a genuinely good voice as his starting point in music.
He was born Al Cernick in Detroit
in 1927, into a Yugoslavian immigrant family whose members sang as often
as possible, for their own pleasure. He made his first appearance as a
singer at age three, at a wedding reception. The Cernick family moved across
the country in search of a place they liked, before reaching Los Angeles
in 1938. He was spotted by a talent scout and signed up as a child performer
at Warner Bros. Studios that same year, and managed to broadcast over a
studio-controlled radio station.
The family's move to San Francisco
in 1940 ended the boy's relationship with Warner Bros., but he kept taking
voice lessons. A summer job on a ranch in the San Joachin Valley taught
him the basics of a cowboy's skills, and by the time he was 17 he was working
as an apprentice saddle-maker. He kept on singing in his spare time, and
this led to the offer of a spot on a local radio show.
He joined the navy for a two-year
hitch in 1944, resuming his radio singing career afterward. In 1947, he
joined the Carmen Cavallaro orchestra, still billed as Al Cernick, as the
featured vocalist, but a bout of food-poisoning caused him to drop out.
In 1948, he cut some sides for King Records as Al Grant, and won first
prize on Arthur Godfrey's Talents Scouts radio program. This led to his
being hired as a demo singer by various music publishers (one of the songs
he demo'd was "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer").
The singer was signed up by impresario
Eddie Joy, who intensified his training and finally introduced him to Mitch
Miller, the head of Artists and Repertory for Columbia Records. It was
Miller who transformed Al Cernick into Guy Mitchell, using his own first
same for the surname. Mitchell's first five singles at Columbia failed,
and his career was only rescued when Frank Sinatra, still with Columbia
Records, declined to cut a pair of songs for which Miller had already set
recording sessions and engaged musicians. Mitchell was brought into the
studio, and the resulting recordings of "My Heart Cries For You" and "The
Roving Kind" rode the charts for 21 weeks in 1951, selling nearly two million
Mitchell's recording career was made,
although his performing career needed work--he'd hardly had the chance
to develop a serious stage act or effective persona when he was booked
into some of the biggest clubs in New York, and roundly criticized for
what some onlookers felt were amateurish aspects of his presentation. Additionally,
nobody had given thought to a problem that hadn't afflicted too many pop
stars before--his performances didn't match the rich, highly produced sound
of his recordings.
These difficulties were eventually
overcome, and Mitchell became a major draw in concert for a time, sustained
by a handful of follow-up hits, including "My Truly, Truly Fair." He became
especially popular in England, where his shows were consistent sell-outs.
Meanwhile, his chart hits stopped
coming in the mid-1950's, and even a brief venture into film acting in
westerns failed to enhance Mitchell's popularity. He might've disappeared
with the coming of rock 'n roll, had it not been for the marketing strategies
of Mitch Miller at Columbia Records. In 1956, Marty Robbins was tearing
up the country charts with "Singin' The Blues," on Columbia, and Miller
chose Guy Mitchell to cut a pop-style cover of the song. Robbins' song
was a huge hit as was, and might've been even bigger--in those days, songs
were regularly crossing over between the charts--but Mitchell's version
supplanted it on pop music stations, and on the charts, where it spent
nine weeks at No. 1 and sold well over a million copies. Mitchell had a
follow-up hit with his cover of another Robbins song, "Knee Deep In The
Blues, and then milked the rock 'n roll bandwagon one last time with "Rock-a-billy."
He never connected with audiences or the charts quite so strongly again,
but he didn't have to. A television variety show followed, and his concert
career in America remained viable until the end of the 1950's, and then
he toured England again, to huge crowds.
Late in 1959, Mitchell scored one
last No. 1 hit with "Heartaches By the Number." By that time, he was running
into competition from a brand of teen-pop music more similar to his own
music than to the rock 'n roll that it supplanted. Further attempts at
acting on television and another movie failed to reignite Mitchell's career.
Mitchell left Columbia Records in 1961, but he was unable to crack the
charts again, either for his own manager's label (Joy Records) or for Reprise,
where he tried recording in the mid- 1960's. He retired in the mid-1960's,
but like any number of 50's singing stars, Mitchell later hit it big on
the nostalgia circuit, and re-emerged in this vein in the 1980's--he remained
a top attraction in England, even at that late date, and also found an
audience in the former Yugoslavia in the wake of the fall of the Eastern
bloc. -- Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide