The Washington Post

Johnny Mann, leader of Grammy-winning TV singing group, dies at 85

Johnny Mann, a Grammy-winning conductor and arranger whose singing group was a staple of recordings and television shows in the 1950s and ’60s, died Wednesday at his home in Anderson, S.C. He was 85.

He had been treated for heart problems in recent years, a daughter, Susie Mann, said.

The Johnny Mann Singers received a Grammy in 1968 for their cover of the hit “Up, Up and Away” and another in 1962 for the album “Great Band With Great Voices,” which featured standards that included a curiously upbeat “Ol’ Man River.”

That’s the way Mr. Mann liked his music — lively, carefree and, in many cases, patriotic.

In 1981, in front of the Los Angeles 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.”

Mr. 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 an 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 Los Angeles, including playing piano in a downtown bar and orchestrating B-movies. The pivotal point in his career came in 1956, when he got the job of choral director on “The NBC Comedy Hour.”

The variety show aired for only five months. But from the show’s vocalists he formed the Johnny Mann Singers, who went on to record about 40 albums and make live appearances.

Mr. 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 had his own series, the syndicated “Stand Up and Cheer,” featuring the Johnny Mann Singers, 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,” Mr. Mann said in a 2011 interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Survivors include his wife, Betty; daughters Susie Mann of Tarzana, Calif., and Jennifer Mann of Westlake Village, Calif.; a sister; and a grandchild.


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