The Mills Brothers were a major African-American jazz and pop vocal group of the 20th century producing more than 2,000 recordings that sold more than 50 million copies and garnered at least three dozen gold records. The Mills Brothers were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998
The group was originally composed of four brothers all born in Piqua, Ohio, just 25 miles north of Dayton: John Jr. (1911-1936) basso and guitarist, Herbert (1912-1989) tenor, Harry (1913-1982) baritone, and Donald (1915-1999) lead tenor.
Their parents were John H. and Eathel Mills. Their father, John Sr., owned a barber shop and founded a barbershop quartet, called the 'Four Kings of Harmony'.
As the boys grew older, they began singing in the choir of the Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church and in the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Piqua. After their lessons at the Spring Street Grammar School, they would gather in front of their father's barbershop on Public Square or at the corner of Greene and Main to sing and play the kazoo to passerbys.
They entered an amateur contest at Piqua's Mays Opera House. That fateful day, while on stage, Harry discovered he had lost his kazoo. He cupped his hands to his mouth and imitated a trumpet. The success of his imitation led to all the brothers taking on instruments to imitate and created their early signature sound. John Jr. accompanied the four-part harmony first with a ukulele and then a guitar. They practiced imitating orchestras they heard on the radio. John, as the bass, would imitate the tuba. Harry, a baritone, imitated the trumpet. Herbert became the second trumpet and Donald the trombone. They entertained on the Midwest theater circuit, at house parties, tent shows, music halls and supper clubs throughout the area and became well known for their close harmonies, mastery of scat singing, and their amazing ability to imitate musical instruments with their voices.