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OBITUARIES

Guy Mitchell; Singer of 1950s Pop Hits

July 03, 1999|RICHARD CROMELIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Guy Mitchell, whose easy, sing-along style on such hits as "Singing the Blues" and "Heartaches by the Number" made him one of the most successful pop singers of the 1950s, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 72.

Mitchell died of complications after surgery at Desert Springs Hospital, his wife, Betty, said Friday.

Mitchell was born Al Cernick in Detroit, and when his family moved to Los Angeles the 11-year-old boy was spotted by a talent scout and signed to a contract by Warner Bros., which groomed him as a child star. But the family moved again, to San Francisco, and Cernick worked as a saddle-maker in the San Joaquin Valley, where he appeared on cowboy singer Dude Martin's radio show.

After a stint in the Navy, he joined pianist Carmen Cavallero's New York dance band, but his big break came in 1950, when Frank Sinatra refused to record some songs for Columbia Records' Mitch Miller, with whom he often disagreed about material.

With the studio booked and the musicians waiting, Miller tracked down Mitchell and recorded "My Heart Cries for You" and "The Roving Kind," both Top 5 hits.

Mitchell remained a regular on the charts for the next decade for Miller and Columbia, peaking with "Singing the Blues." Mitchell had heard a version of the country song by label mate Marty Robbins, and he asked Miller if he could record it.

Robbins' and Mitchell's versions entered the charts at the same time, but as Robbins' peaked at No. 17 in the pop market (while topping the country chart), Mitchell's record went to No. 1 and stayed there for 10 weeks--a reign surpassed among male singers only by Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog," which topped the pop chart for 11 weeks in 1956.

Mitchell followed that pattern for the next few years, covering country hits by Robbins ("Knee Deep in the Blues") and Ray Price ("The Same Old Me," "Heartaches by the Number" and "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You") and bringing them to the pop charts.

His last pop chart appearance was in 1960, but he briefly recorded for Starday Records in the late '60s and made brief entries into the country chart.

During his '50s heyday, Mitchell also appeared in the movies "Those Redheads From Seattle" and "Red Garters." He hosted a short-lived TV musical variety show for ABC in 1957, and he played a detective on the NBC series "Whispering Smith" in 1961.

Mitchell, a Las Vegas resident since 1981, performed occasionally in the '80s, appearing more often in England, where he had a strong following, than in the U.S.

In addition to his wife, Mitchell is survived by two stepsons and five grandchildren.

Services will be 10 a.m. Tuesday at Prince of Peace Church in Las Vegas.

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