Frank Mills

2016 Honorary Licentiate Diploma

Our Honorary Licentiate Diploma (LCCM honoris causa) for 2016 was presented to Frank Mills, Canadian performer, composer and pianist at our annual Convocation ceremony in London, ON.  Mr. Mills was in attendance graciously performing his former number one hit, “Music Box Dancer” to an enthusiastic audience of students, teachers and families from across the country.

Music was a familiar presence in the Mills household; his mother was a piano player, his dad a businessman who was also known for his rousing Irish tenor.  His sister took piano lessons and it was from listening to her practice he began to master the piano by ear. Still later he took up the trombone, playing in the school band. During his teen years, both his parents, who had been ill from the time of Frank’s earliest memories, died of cancer by the time he was 17.

Frank Mills’ formal training in music continued at McGill University in Montreal. He, actually, began studies as a pre-med student, but, alas, did not fare well academically. It was on his way to the Navy recruitment office, he ran into a friend in the music faculty, who talked him into taking the entrance exam to the university’s music department.  He scored 98% on the exam and found his life’s calling.

In 1971 his professional music career got its first taste of success.  He was a member of a Canadian group, The Bells, whose recording “Stay A While” went to Number 1 on the US and Canadian music charts. It was as a piano player with The Bells, Frank Mills, developed his unique personal style of playing up high on the keyboard. Frank left The Bells in 1971 to focus his talents on making an instrumental album of his own compositions.  Within months of its release in Canada, he had his first personal hit, “Love Me, Love Me, Love” which sold over 100,00 copies and launched his solo career. In 1973, he recorded another album on his own which was initially leased to a recording label that dissolved in bankruptcy, forcing his effort to lie in limbo for several years.  As frustrating as that course of events seemed at the time, good fortune was to be the result.  (In lieu of payment for the pre-bankruptcy sales, Frank was given the remaining album inventory – about 800 pieces –, which he diligently promoted, to radio stations across the country.) On the dormant album, a track named “The Music Box Dancer” resided unnoticed. In 1976, Polydor records, which he had recorded for earlier, leased that “dormant” album for distribution at the same time releasing a single off it for airplay. Polydor chose a lush, romantic ballad, “The Poet and Me” as the “A” side and “a little funny piano tune” titled “Music Box Dancer” on the flip. “The flip” was to play the most crucial and important part in the resurgence and eventual worldwide success of Frank Mills career.  The “flip” occurred when David Watts, an Ottawa DJ, and friendly acquaintance of Frank, decided the “A” side was not for him, nor for his listeners.  For Frank’s sake, he “flipped” the record over and played the “B” side on the air. The rest, as they say, is now etched in the record books!

It has been awhile since the early 1970’s when the “flip” took place. That fateful happening (and increasingly fruitful) composition has fuel an amazing career, propelling Frank Mills into the rare area shared by Canada’s most prolific and successful modern composers. Frank Mills now fully spends and enjoys his home in Vermont, tapping his maple syrup and divining the result (ever true to his Montreal, Quebec upbringing) into Mills’ “Sriop ‘e Radle au Francoise!”  His more southern home in the Bahamas also harbours his famous syrup but more especially his beloved sailing vessel on which family and friends spend a good deal of time. While writing music ranks only “as one of those things he does, it has, nonetheless, been paramount in his life’s pursuits.  It has been the vehicle that has permitted him the opportunity to pursue all his other pastimes.