On Christmas Day in 1969, Rita Abrams sat on a bench outside the Mill Valley bus depot and wrote a cheerful little song about the town she'd come to call home a few months before. "Mill Valley" celebrates the Marin County town, its creeks, sunshine and trees, and its sense of community and home.
The song might have stayed within the confines of Strawberry Point School, where Abrams was a teacher. But a chance encounter with a record producer sent her and a chorus of third-graders on an unlikely journey to the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1970 and more than 15 minutes of fame. Francis Ford Coppola, pre-"Godfather," directed the music video (above).
After the song's success, Abrams was able to buy a modest house. She left teaching to live the creative life full time, writing everything from musicals to greeting cards. She doesn't regret that decision, but now economic realities may be forcing her out of the town where, in the words of the song, “life feels very fine and free".
"The last line of the song is, ‘How could I leave Mill Valley?’ And here I am, leaving Mill Valley and not wanting to," Abrams told KQED's Cy Musiker. "But it's really necessary."
Abrams, who eventually sold her house, can no longer afford the condo she bought 26 years ago. So, she's putting it on the market. "I have to have at least one cry in every room I’m cleaning out, and then I’m fine," she said.