The following is an article from NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE, July 20, 1970, titled “Pet Teacher”:
“Last Christmas, a pretty schoolteacher strolled out into the sunshine and wrote a song about her new hometown, Mill Valley, Calif. She wrote it for her kindergarten class – and put the pleasant north-of-San Francisco suburb (population: 12,150) on the map. The song has already sold more than 100,000 records; it’s No.5 on the local hit parade and this week it’s on the national charts.
“Mill Valley’s” composer is 26-year-old Rita Abrams, a Cleveland girl who went west and was “so overwhelmed by the beauty of the town” that she had to write about it. “I couldn’t believe a Christmas without cold or snow,” she says. Her Mill Valley’s a place where “creeks run on endlessly,” as the song goes, and with “trees as far as you can see.” Rita tried the song first with her own class at Strawberry Point School, but the kindergartners, long on enthusiasm, proved to be short on pitch. So she enlisted the vocal assistance of third-graders. Luckily, she knew Erik Jacobsen, producer of such groups as the Lovin’ Spoonful and Sopwith Camel, who first recorded and then sold the song to Reprise Records.
Click the PLAY button to watch Ms. Abrams’ video for “Mill Valley” directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Gentle: The third-grade chorus – 26 of them – sing the refrain, “Mill Valley, talking ’bout Mill Valley, that’s my home,” while Rita handles the solo part and plays the electric piano. Like an unobtrusive little show tune, “Mill Valley” has a simple melody, carried along by a gentle rhythm and easy rhymes like “People aren’t afraid to smile/And stop and talk with you awhile.”
The predominantly white-collar town, whose inhabitants include such rock stars as singer Janis Joplin and guitarist Mike Bloomfield, coexists peacefully with a hippie community.
“Mill Valley” isn’t Rita’s first musical effort. At 13 she started to write what she calls “teeny-bopper love songs that were bad enough to be hits but never made it.” After attending the University of Michigan, she helped form an all-girl rock band, 3 Faces of Eve, that didn’t make it either. So, she decided to teach full-time.
If Rita’s Christmas inspiration has not yet made her and the third-graders superstars in July, they are at any rate still celebrities. “Mill Valley” has already been officially designated the town song; and at a recent school-board meeting it was played nine times. Next fall Rita will teach special music courses throughout the Mill Valley school system. She’s hard at work adapting some of her rock ‘n’ roll songs for her schoolchildren – now promoted to the fourth grade. As for the kids, they’re getting $5 each for gigs in town and starting to talk show biz. “If we can get on Ed Sullivan,” one 9-year-old shouts, “we can make it to the top!”
SONGBOOK FORWARD – Rita Abrams wrote in the forward to her published song book:
“Finding Mill Valley was one of my happiest accidents. I came out here from Boston with no prospect of either a place to stay or a teaching job, just a few days before school was to start. On the map, one town looked like another, and I called all of them to find work. When I was offered a job, I knew I should take it and cancel the one interview I had left. But, just to be sure, I kept that last appointment.
I drove into Mill Valley, and by the time I reached the door of the school district office I was in love with the place. The people I met inside gave me even more of a feeling that Mill Valley was where I wanted to be.
On Christmas day of the next year, after a peaceful walk through town, I decided that if any town deserved to have its own song Mill Valley did. I think it was the easiest song I ever wrote, and I couldn’t wait to teach it to the kids at Strawberry Point School – they mostly giggled when they heard it. The story would have ended there, or maybe with the adoption of “Mill Valley” as the official town song (which was exciting enough). But in another happy accident I met a producer at a party, the same Erik Jacobsen who had been mentioned to me back in Boston as someone who might like one of my songs. I told Erik about “Mill Valley” and he wanted to hear it. When he liked the classroom tape enough to try making a record, I went into a daze that lasted about three months, losing a lot of sleep and several pounds.
The things that have happened to the kids and me since the release of “Mill Valley” have filled a lot of scrapbooks: Letters from around the world, articles in all kinds of newspapers and magazines, national TV shows, and. at last. the release of our album. ”
Click to visit Rita’s WEBSITE.