We regret to report that music pioneer Willie Mitchell died this morning at 7:25 in Memphis Methodist Medical Center.
Born and raised in Ashland, Mississippi, Mitchell moved to Memphis when he was in high school. He attended Rust College.
At the age of eight, he began to play the trumpet. While in high school, he was a featured player in popular local big bands. He later formed his own combo, which from time to time included musicians such as saxophonists Booker Little, Charles Lloyd, and George Coleman, and pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr
Mitchell landed a job with the Home of the Blues record label as a producer, then left to join Hi Records as both a recording artist and a producer.
Known at the recording studio as “Papa Willie,” Mitchell earned his nickname by taking over the reins of Hi Records in 1970 and guiding it through its most successful period. Mitchell’s productions have been much noted for featuring a hard-hitting kick drum sound (usually played by pioneering Memphis drummer Al Jackson, Jr. of Booker T. and the MG’s).
A trumpeter and bandleader in his own right, Mitchell released a number of popular singles for Hi Records as an artist in the 1960s, including “Soul Serenade.”
He and Al Green revived their successful recording partnership in 2003 when Green recorded “I Can’t Stop,” his first collaboration with Mitchell since 1985’s “He is the Light.” Their 2005 follow-up project was “Everything’s OK.”
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