From Thursday Island in the Torres Straits (between Australia and Papua New Guinea), this family singing group was formed by Rita Mills (b. 1935, d. 7 December 2004), Ina Mills and Cessa Mills, all born on the island in the 20s. Playing ukulele (Cessa), guitar (Rita) and tambourine (Ina), and singing in pidgin English, Creole and the Irian Jaya tongue, the sisters began to harmonise while attending convent school, and church harmonies, alongside indigenous music, continued to provide the central platform for their songs throughout their career. They became the full-time musical attraction at Thursday Island’s Grand Hotel in the early 60s, and only began to tour internationally in the late 80s. Rather than writing original material, the sisters expressed more interested in keeping alive island traditions, combining them with other forms of imported popular song, notably gospel and blues (a cover version of ‘Under The Boardwalk’ featured prominently in their repertoire). Producing their own records with the assistance of Brett Tyrell, their producer and manager, in the 90s the Mills Sisters visited Australia, China, France and England (appearing at the Indigenous Peoples Festival at London’s Albert Hall). Cessa and Ina retired from performing in 1996, and Rita continued a solo career until illness curtailed her activities in 2001. She passed away in December 2004, having battled Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease for several years.
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