EditorialFor the love of music


For when you’re feeling social


Steve Panacci

February 27, 2024

The Mills Brothers were an iconic American group that left an indelible mark on the music industry. The ensemble was comprised of four brothers – John Jr., Herbert, Harry, and Donald Mills. Collectively, they became known for their innovative use of harmony and rhythm, influencing many artists across different genres and generations. 


Born into a musical family in Piqua, Ohio, the Mills Brothers began performing as children, honing their skills and developing their sound. Each member had something unique to offer. 


John Jr., the eldest of the siblings, possessed a rich baritone voice that served as the foundation of the group’s sound. Herbert, known affectionately as “Herb,” brought a smooth, lyric tenor to the ensemble. His voice added a touch of sweetness and lightness to their sound. Harry, the third brother, possessed a warm and deep baritone voice that complemented John Jr.’s bass perfectly. Donald, the youngest of the siblings, had a clear, expressive voice allowing him to effortlessly navigate complex melodies and vocal arrangements. 



Emerging onto the scene during the 1930s, the Mills Brothers quickly rose to fame through their incredible versatility. With a repertoire consisting of Jazz, Pop, Gospel, and Rhythm and Blues, they were able to reach a diverse audience. In an era of racial segregation enforced by media and the music industry, the group refused to give up. Instead, they pushed through with determination, utilizing their music to unify audiences. Their performances not only entertained but also served as a cry against societal injustices, shattering barriers and opening doors for future generations of African American artists. 


They found the most success with songs like “Goodbye Blues”, “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, “Ole Rockin’ Chair“, “Lazy River“, “How’m I Doin'”, ”Lazy Bones”, “Sweet Sue” and “Lulu’s Back In Town“. 


Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, was an early admirer of the Mills Brothers. He appreciated their seamless vocal improvisations and rhythmic innovations, often referencing them as a significant influence on his own music. Armstrong’s admiration for the group, and subsequent recording sessions with them, helped elevate both their and his stature within the Jazz community and beyond. 



Bing Crosby also drew inspiration from the Mills Brothers, admiring their tight harmonies and relaxed delivery, incorporating elements of their sound into his own recordings. Like Louis Armstrong, Crosby’s admiration for the group led to collaborations and mutual respect between the two acts, further solidifying the Mills Brothers’ place in music history. 


Billie Holiday was another artist influenced by the Mills Brothers. She appreciated their vocal skills and innovative approach to rhythm, incorporating elements of their style into her own interpretations of classic Jazz songs. Her acknowledgment of the group’s impact also underscored their influence within the jazz community and beyond. 


As Black pioneers in the music industry, the Mills Brothers faced significant challenges and obstacles during their career, like racial segregation, censorship, bias in the recording industry, legal battles and personal sacrifices for the sake of their careers. However, their talent and persistence paved the way for future generations of artists. 


Over their career, The Mills Brothers recorded over 2,000 songs, selling over fifty million copies of their albums and accomplished three dozen gold records. The group also received a prestigious honor in 1998 when they were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame. This accolade solidified their status as icons in the realm of music, ensuring their legacy would continue to inspire future generations of artists. 


Their achievements continue to be celebrated today. RX Music proudly honors their legacy and recognizes the immense contributions of the Mills Brothers to the cultural tapestry of American music. Their story serves as a testament to the power of perseverance, creativity, and the enduring impact of Black artists on the world stage. 





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