Stanley Mills, part of the prosperous Mills Music family publishing dynasty who popularized “The Chicken Dance” as a wedding and party staple, died Dec. 29 at a hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He was 91.
Mills was the son of famed music publisher Jack Mills, who had the golden ears to sign such artists as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Leroy Anderson and many others as their songwriting careers blossomed in the 1920s and ’30s.
Born in 1931, Stanley Mills grew up to join the family business in New York. He stayed on with the company for two years after Mills Music was sold to EMI Music Publishing in 1964. He worked for another music publisher, E.B. Marks, for a few years before setting out on his own in 1968 with the launch of September Music and Galahad Music.
According to the Mills family obituary:
“Mills built his catalog from scratch, one song at a time, via relationships with songwriters he’d worked with over the years like Paul Evans and Paul Parnes (“Happiness Is”) and Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee (“End Of The World”). Back then songwriters used to walk from publisher to publisher, literally across the hall from each other, trying to score a deal. Focusing on MOR (Middle-Of-The-Road) and later county music songs, Stanley found success with hits like Bobby Vinton’s “My Melody Of Love” and “Darlin” recorded by David Rogers, Tom Jones, and Bonnie Raitt. Perhaps his most famous contribution to popular music in America and the world was his introduction years ago of what is arguably the most popular party song of all-time, “The Chicken Dance.”
Mills’ promoted the obscure, rollicking polka tune that is designed to accompany large groups of people doing a chicken-style dance complete with flapping arms, copious tail-shaking and hand movements. Mills saw the fun that it provoked at weddings and such, and spent decades tirelessly promoting the music for movies, TV and commercials. By the 1990s, “The Chicken Dance” had reached critical mass, as noted in a 2001 page-one Wall Street Journal story.
Mills sold his publishing firms to Memory Lane Music in 2015. He served as a board member of the National Music Publishers Association trade organization and Harry Fox Agency for 30 years.
His survivors include sons Kenneth Mills of Plantation, Fla., and Mitchell Mills of Woodmere, N.Y. He is also survived by nephew Joshua Mills, a music manager and publicist in Los Angeles; Peter Alpert and Trish Alpert of Long Island; and five grandchildren.