Austin Mitchell Jr. was a professional musician, organist and choir master.
He died on Monday, April 28, 2014. He was 95.
Mitchell was educated in the Philadelphia Public School System and attended Northeast High School. Although Mitchell benefitted from studies related to piano and organ while attending Northeast, his family said his “God-given” gift of perfect pitch enabled him to become an accomplished musician without formal training.
Mitchell enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939 and was among the first sailors to serve in the “integrated” Navy. He served during World War II and was honorably discharged.
Mitchell devoted his life to music. The late Sarah Vaughn, world renowned vocalist, described him as a musician’s musician. His arrangements and intriguing style of making music captivated audiences throughout the United States and Canada. He attended the Burton School of Music and the Landis School of Music, later serving as a teacher at Landis.
Mitchell traveled extensively as an organist covering the entertainment circuit, playing in Baltimore, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, New York, Michigan, Missouri and Canada. He toured with Arnett Cobb, LaVerne Baker, Bobby Day, Etta James, the Five Royals, Lee Andrews and the Hearts, and Jackie Wilson.
Mitchell played in many Philadelphia supper clubs as, “Mitchell at the Hammond Organ.” As an original master of the Hammond Organ B-3, his longest local engagement was at the Red Carpet in Germantown. He was also the featured attraction at Postal Card and Cleo’s Catherine Street nightclubs.
After many years of traveling and performing, Mitchell stated, “Now I will have time to devote to my first love…working in the church.”
His first church home was National Baptist Church. He began his career in church music at that church. He was later confirmed at the Church of the Advocate, an episcopal congregation where he sang in the choir.
Mitchell loved all kinds of church music. His family said his skills on the organ and piano, his ability to teach, coupled with his skills in arranging music made him a distinguished minister of music. Mitchell served as an organist at Taylor Memorial Baptist Church and the Berean Presbyterian Church, and as organist and choirmaster at the Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Holmesburg. He was also the director of the male chorus at the Grace Baptist Church of Germantown
At age 71, Mitchell began his 21 year adventure as pianist for the Grace Notes Jazz Ensemble. The group provided him with an outlet to intertwine church music with jazz. He was featured with the group in hundreds of concerts, one recording session and a major advertisement campaign. The Grace Notes Jazz Ensemble was featured for six months in a radio commercial and was seen on billboards and buses throughout the Delaware Valley.
His family said Mitchell’s recording “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” speaks volumes about his musicianship and spiritual dedication.
Mitchell remained a faithful member of Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church until his death.
He is survived by his son Hakim Ali; grandson Alvin Mitchell, Jr.; niece Sandra Mitchell Henderson, nephew Harry V. Mitchell; and other relatives and friends.
A memorial service will be held May 27 at 11 a.m. at the Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church, 3200 N. Broad St.