Irving Mills, 91, a music publisher and former talent scout and manager who was best known for discovering and for a time managing jazz immortal Duke Ellington, died April 21 at a hospital in Palm Springs, Calif. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Mills began his career in the days before radio, demonstrating songs behind the music counters of five-and-dime stores. He went on to publish Ellington's most famous songs, including "Mood Indigo," "Solitude" and "Sophisticated Lady" as well as Cab Calloway's famed "Minnie the Moocher."
In the 1920s, he organized Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang, a jazz band with such budding stars as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw as sidemen.
Mr. Mills was born in New York City. He got his first music industry job as a song demonstrator in 1913. "I sang at Woolworth's, Grant's -- all of 'em," he once recalled.
In 1919, he started Mills Music with his brother, Jack, to publish music. Soon he also was producing records and traveling the country to scout talent.
He met Ellington in 1926 at a club in New York City where Ellington was performing, and soon hired him to lead a band. He managed Ellington until 1939, breaking racial barriers by scheduling concerts in previously all-white halls. He eventually became as well known as a talent manager, at one point managing Milton Berle, and as a music publisher. He sold Mills Music in 1965 but continued to publish music.
His wife of 65 years, Bessie, died in 1976. Survivors include four sons and a daughter.