R&B legend Willie Mitchell died today (January 5, 2010) at the age of 81.
Mitchell had a heart attack on December 19 and was hospitalized at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis for over two weeks.
“The great music city of Memphis has lost a legend with the passing of producer/engineer Willie Mitchell. A recipient of The Recording Academy Trustees Award in 2008, Mitchell’s producing and arranging contributed to the success of numerous artists, especially Al Green,” Neil Portnow, President and CEO of The Recording Academy, told RareSoul.com.
“He masterfully produced and engineered all of Green’s albums from 1970 to 1976, including such classics as Let’s Stay Together,” Portnow continued. “Frequently credited as the creator of the often-copied “Hi Records Sound, Mitchell will be forever remembered for his great contributions to our music community.”
Willie Mitchell is best known as a legendary bandleader and a record man who is credited with discovering Al Green.
Mitchell was born in Ashland, Mississippi, but he moved to Memphis, Tennessee at a young age, where he started studying music, mostly the trumpet.
After a stint in the Army Mitchell returned back to Memphis in 1954, where he became a trumpet playing bandleader.
Mitchell inked with local label Hi Records, the legendary label founded by Ray Harris for $3.50 cents.
After signing in 1961 due to a chance meeting with Harris, Mitchell and the Hi Rhythm Section (which featured Al Jackson of Booker T. & The M.G.s and Stax fame) released “The Crawl.”
The group enjoyed eight R&B instrumental hits between 1964 and 1969, with tracks like “Bad Eye,” “Soul Serenade,” “20-75” and “Prayer Meeting.”
In 1969, Willie Mitchell retired from the road and focused his attention on his duties as VP of Hi Records, by signing Al Green.
Between 1970 and 1976, Willie Mitchell produced and engineered Al Green’s classic records like “Tired of Being Alone,“ “I’m Still in Love With You” and his the biggest single, “Let’s Stay Together.”
And as he produced records for Al Green, Mitchell continued to work with other artists such as O.V. Wright, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles and Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Woods.
In addition to releasing his own albums like Soul Bag, The Many Moods of Willie Mitchell and Willie Mitchell Live.
Additionally, Willie Mitchell was the owner of Royal Studios in Memphis and he also has a street named after him in the city as well.