Johnny Mann dies at 85; Grammy-winning conductor and arranger
Grammy-winning conductor and arranger Johnny Mann, whose singing group was a staple of recordings and TV shows in the 1950s and ‘60s, died Wednesday at his home in Anderson, S.C. He was 85.
Mann had been treated for heart problems in recent years, said his daughter, Susie Mann.
The Johnny Mann Singers were awarded a Grammy in 1968 for their cover version of the hit song “Up, Up and Away” and in 1962 for the album “Great Band With Great Voices,” which featured standards including a curiously upbeat “Ol’ Man River.”
But that’s the way Mann liked his music during his career — lively, carefree and, in many cases, patriotic. In 1981, in front of the City Council, he sang a song he wrote, “Los Angeles, Our City by the Sea,” in hopes it would be chosen as the official city song (it wasn’t). He made no apology for the frankly sentimental lyrics, with references to snow-capped mountains and lingering shadows on the land.
“I am an emotional hamburger,” he told the council, “but I like to be with a group of emotional hamburgers, people who care about America. I have been known to cry at drainage ditch dedications.”
Mann was born Aug. 30, 1928, in Baltimore. His mother was a piano teacher and he was in a church choir by the time he was 5.
After high school he joined the Army, where he played trombone in the Army Field Band. After his discharge in 1953, he pursued a career in music. “I figured there were only two places I could make music for a living — New York and Los Angeles,” he said in his autobiography, “The Music Mann.” “I figured I could starve in either place, but at least I wouldn’t freeze to death in California.”
He took various jobs in L.A., including playing piano in a downtown bar and orchestrating B-movies. The pivotal point in his career probably came on a 1956 TV variety show, “The NBC Comedy Hour.” He was the choral director for the program, which aired for only five months. From the show’s vocalists he formed the Johnny Mann Singers, who went on to record about 40 albums and do live performances.
Mann was the vocal director on episodes of “The Danny Kaye Show,” which ran on CBS in the mid-1960s. He was also the music director of “The Joey Bishop Show” in the late 1960s.
He got his own series, the syndicated “Stand Up and Cheer” featuring the Johnny Mann Singers, which ran from 1971 to 1974. As the titled suggested, it was upbeat and included patriotic segments during the era of protests against the Vietnam War. “I got my TV series on the air because I was fed up with the protesters burning the flag,” Mann said in a 2011 interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
His group also recorded jingles for oldies radio stations. The jingle still played through the day on “K-EARTH 101” is by the Johnny Mann Singers.
In addition to his daughter Susie Mann of Tarzana, Mann is survived by his wife, Betty; another daughter, Jennifer Mann of Westlake Village; one grandchild; and his sister, Josephine Steciuk of Hawaii.
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