Johnny Mann, who won two Grammy Awards as leader of the clean-cut easy-listening vocal group the Johnny Mann Singers, died on Wednesday at his home in Anderson, S.C. He was 85.
The cause was heart failure, his wife, Betty, said.
In the 1960s and ’70s, as rock ’n’ roll exerted itself as the driver of a rebellious youth culture, Mr. Mann represented a stolid old guard, musically speaking.
With their gently driven rhythms and tightly controlled harmonies, Eisenhower-era hairdos and neatly natty attire, the Johnny Mann Singers were well scrubbed and tone perfect, recording more than 30 albums of college songs, Christmas songs, patriotic songs, Beatles songs and familiar tunes spanning several musical eras, from “Ol’ Man River” to “Chattanooga Choo Choo” to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Mrs. Robinson.”
Along with Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller, Ray Conniff and other bandleaders who offered popular melodies in palatable choral arrangements, Mr. Mann helped define a musical genre that was potently counter-countercultural.
Their first Grammy Award was for the 1961 album “Great Band With Great Voices,” recorded with the Si Zentner Orchestra. That album included the W. C. Handy classic “St. Louis Blues” and the sweetly hopeful romantic ballad “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” from “Kismet.”
Their second Grammy, in 1967, was for “Up, Up and Away,” including not just the Jimmy Webb composition that gave the album its title, a hit for the Fifth Dimension, but also the Mamas and the Papas favorite “Monday, Monday” and “Somethin’ Stupid,” which Frank and Nancy Sinatra had turned into a popular duet.
From 1971 to 1974, Mr. Mann was the host of “Stand Up and Cheer,” a syndicated television variety show with a patriotic slant that also featured the Johnny Mann Singers, dressed in color-coordinated outfits, and guests like the Lennon Sisters, Andy Griffith, Trini Lopez and Bobbie Gentry.
From 1967 to 1969 he had been music director for “The Joey Bishop Show,”a late-night talk show on ABC that was meant to compete against “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” It featured Regis Philbin as Mr. Bishop’s Ed McMahon-style sidekick.
Before that, Mr. Mann was musical director for “The Alvin Show” (1961), the original animated series about three singing chipmunks (it was created following the success of a 1958 novelty record) who have since been revived in a number of television shows and movies.
John Russell Mann was born in Baltimore on Aug. 30, 1928, where his father, Elsworth, was a building superintendent. His mother, Lillian, his primary musical influence, taught piano and voice. After high school, Mr. Mann served in the Army during the Korean War, playing trombone in the Army Field Band.
After mustering out he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as an arranger and music director for movie studios. In 1956, he was choral director for a short-lived variety show, “NBC Comedy Hour,” that led to the creation of the Johnny Mann Singers. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, the group recorded with Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, Walter Brennan and others. The group also became known for recording theme songs and jingles, especially for radio stations.
Mr. Mann’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Betty Weinmann, whom he married in 1983, he is survived by two daughters, Lori Susan Mann and Jennifer Lee Mann; a sister, Josephine Steciuk; and a grandson.