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The '60s Housewife Who Couldn't Sing—But Landed on the Billboard Charts Anyway

Before Auto-Tune, singers who sought fame and commercial success presumably needed to possess some semblance of vocal talent. Not so with Elva Miller, a frumpy housewife who, with her oddly shrill voice and off-key singing, achieved both fame and commercial success in the 1960s. Known as Mrs. Miller, she sold over 250,000 records in the span of three weeks, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice, sang at the Hollywood Bowl, and performed for U.S. troops in Vietnam with Bob Hope.

By ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons

Born in Joplin, Mo. in 1907, Elva Miller (nee Connes) grew up in Dodge City, Kans. with her family and sang in her church choir. In 1935, she moved to Claremont, Calif. (a suburb of Los Angeles) with her husband, John Miller. Mrs. Miller kept herself busy in Claremont: She took music and voice classes at Pomona College, sang with the local Presbyterian Church choir, and recorded herself singing classical hymns. After spending her own money to rent the recording studio and hire musicians, she donated her recordings to orphanages and local charities.

Fred Bock, a conductor and arranger of religious music, heard Mrs. Miller’s recordings and asked her to sing covers of contemporary pop songs. As a joke, Bock’s friend, Gary Owens, a Los Angeles radio DJ, played Mrs. Miller’s songs on his show. Bock then brought a demo of Mrs. Miller singing "Downtown" to Capitol Records, where A&R guy Lex de Azevedo gave her a record deal. (Lex was young but influential—his uncle was Capitol’s president, Bill Conkling.)

Despite (or because of) her strange operatic singing style, her first record sold more than 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. Ironically called Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits, the LP reached #15 on Billboard’s Top Albums chart. In April 1966, two of her songs hit the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart: "Downtown" at #82 and "A Lover’s Concerto" at #95. Listeners loved the novelty of Mrs. Miller. She sang off key and out of sync with the band, but she was a good-natured, plump 59-year-old woman whose enthusiasm for performing and overconfidence in her singing ability seemed authentic.

Although she may not have known initially that her singing was comically terrible, Mrs. Miller eventually realized she was being laughed at, but she went along with it anyway. When Life interviewed her in 1967, she said that Capitol would do everything they could to make her sound bad. Allegedly, they conducted her a beat faster or slower than the music, recorded her when she was tired, and used the first vocal take before she could learn the songs.

In 1966 and 1967, Capitol Records released two more Mrs. Miller records, which consisted of her singing current pop and country songs. After her third record failed to sell enough copies, Capitol dropped her, but she released more songs on her own until she retired in 1973. Mrs. Miller did charity work in Hollywood until she died in 1997, a few months shy of her 90th birthday.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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iStock

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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The Unsolved Mysteries Soundtrack Is Coming to Vinyl
Terror Vision
Terror Vision

If you never missed an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, just listening to the opening theme of the series may be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Now, you don't need to wait to catch reruns of the show to experience the haunting music: The original soundtrack is now available to preorder on vinyl—the first time it's been available in any format.

Terror Vision, a company that releases obscure horror scores on vinyl, has produced two versions of the soundtrack: a single LP for $27 and a triple LP for $48. Both records were compiled from the original digital audio tapes used to score the show. Terror Vision owner and soundtrack curator Ryan Graveface writes in the product description: "The single LP version features my personal favorite songs from the ghost related segments of Unsolved Mysteries whereas the triple LP set contains EVERYTHING written for the ghost segments. This version is very very limited as it’s really just meant for diehard fans.”

Both LPs include various iterations of the Unsolved Mysteries opening theme—three versions on the single and five on the triple. Customers who spring for the triple LP will also receive liner notes from the show's creator John Cosgrove, composer Gary Malkin, and Graveface.

Over 30 years since the show first premiered, the theme music remains one of the most memorable parts of the spooky, documentary-style series. As producer Raymond Bridgers once said, "The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on.”

You can preorder the records today with shipping estimated for late June.

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