Grammy Award-winning lead singer dies in Anderson

Greenville NewsJuly 1, 2014 

— He was a kind, cheerful fixture at Anderson’s theatrical and musical events, always handing out generous compliments to the performers.

Few knew they were in the presence of an entertainment legend.

Johnny Mann, the two-time Grammy Award-winning leader of the Johnny Mann Singers, died in Anderson on June 18 at the age of 85.

At a packed memorial service on Saturday, Anderson University president Evans Whitaker announced the creation of the Johnny Mann Center for Commercial Music at the university in memory of the multi-talented musician, whose group produced such 1960s chart-toppers as Jimmy Webb’s “Up, Up and Away.”

“Johnny Mann represented so much of what we hope to inspire in our students as they pursue a professional music career,” Whitaker said. “He did everything with excellence, professionalism and integrity.”

In 2013, Mann helped the university rebrand and redesign its College of Visual and Performing Arts into The South Carolina School of the Arts, encompassing music, theater, dance, art and design.

Mann also wrote a new school song, “Sounds of Anderson,” for the university’s centennial in 2011.

Mann and his wife Betty moved to Anderson in 2004 to be closer to Betty’s daughter. The couple immediately became heavily involved in the community’s musical life.

“He was just delightful and had so many interesting experiences in his life, but he was totally humble about it,” said Kathryn Smith, a freelance writer who co-authored Mann’s biography, “The Music Mann: My Life in Song,” published in June, 2013.

“He considered his musical ability a gift from God, and it was,” Smith added.

Mann was active until the day he died, Smith said. He died of a heart attack at his Anderson home.

The day before, Mann had attended a rehearsal for the Concert of Hope and Remembrance. The annual event raises money for the Cancer Association of Anderson.

Mann’s smooth, easy listening group recorded more than 40 albums of pop-music covers, Christmas songs and patriotic numbers. The familiar tunes ranged from Beatles melodies to “Ol’ Man River” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” to “Today” and “Mrs. Robinson.”

Among Mann’s many accomplishments, he performed twice at the White House, starred in his own TV show and voiced Theodore the animated chipmunk.

The Johnny Mann Singers received its first Grammy Award for the 1961 album “Great Band With Great Voices.”

The single “Up, Up and Away” (recorded earlier by The 5th Dimension) flew to No. 6 on the U.K. charts in 1967 and earned Mann a second Grammy Award.

From 1971 to 1974, Mann was the host of “Stand Up and Cheer,” a syndicated TV variety show with a patriotic slant. Mann created the program first as a live stage show that he took to Las Vegas at the height of the Vietnam War, when many doubted its public appeal.

“He was told that they’d laugh you out of town,” Smith said. “But he loved to write patriotic music, and the show was a huge success.”

From 1967 to 1969, Mann was the music director of “The Joey Bishop Show.” Before that, he served as music director for “The Alvin Show,” the original series about three singing chipmunks who have since been revived in several TV shows and movies. Mann also was the voice of Theodore the chipmunk for many years.

Mann was born in Baltimore and served in the Army from 1951 until 1953.

Doug Norwine, a career studio musician who performs frequently at Greenville’s Centre Stage, has been named director of the Mann Center. Anderson University’s degree in commercial music will focus on contemporary styles of music such as jazz, bluegrass, rock, R&B and others.

Mann spent much of his professional career in Los Angeles, retiring first to Palm Desert near Palm Springs.

Even in retirement, Mann spent considerable time writing radio jingles, something he had done throughout his career, Smith said.

Mann’s last public performance was in April, conducting the Anderson University Choir in “Up, Up and Away,” eliciting an extended standing ovation.

Saturday’s memorial service for Mann took place at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anderson.

Mann’s biography, along with his music, can be purchased at the website johnnymannsingers.com.

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