Like Mamie Smith, Lena Wilson, Viola McCoy, Etta Mooney, Helen Baxter, Edna Hicks, Esther Bigeou, Lucille Hegamin and the young Ethel Waters, Josie Miles was a vaudeville blues entertainer whose records are intriguing relics of a bygone era. During the early 1920s, with the recording industry in its infancy, Josie Miles and her contemporaries performed catchy pop and blues-inflected melodies within a limited stylistic range, sometimes backed by musicians who were destined to play important roles in the rapid evolution of jazz and popular music. Relatively few of the women who were making records before 1925 continued to do so as recording technology improved and popular tastes began to modernize. The Josie Miles discography contains about 50 recordings dating from the years 1922-1925. Information about her life is scarce and limited.
Born in Summerville, SC around 1900, Josie Miles gravitated to New York City and in 1922 toured with Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's comedic revue Shuffle Along. Her first phonograph records were cut in August 1922 for Harry Pace's African-American-owned Black Swan label, for which she waxed about eight titles before switching to Gennett in September 1923. During that year she entertained theater audiences in Columbus, OH, toured the vaudeville circuit with the Black Swan Troubadors, sang over WDT radio in New York and performed in James P. Johnson's Runnin' Wild, the show that featured a new song and dance called the Charleston.
When Black Swan was absorbed by Paramount in 1924, the 1922 recordings of Josie Miles were released as Paramounts. By then she had records on the market bearing the Gennett, Ajax, Edison, and Banner labels; more would appear in 1925 and her music is believed to have been released on as many as 16 different labels. Some of her accompanists were destined for great accomplishments. Pianist Fletcher Henderson would lead one of the first important big bands and later wrote arrangements for Benny Goodman. Cliff Jackson was one of the great unsung Harlem stride pianists, and banjoist Elmer Snowden was one of Duke Ellington's earliest collaborators.
Josie Miles recorded with an impressive array of cornetists: Bubber Miley, Louis Metcalf, and Rex Stewart, each helped to define the Ellington sound, while Joe Smith made some of his very best records with blues empress Bessie Smith, whose powerful delivery soon made a lot of other blues singers sound comparatively insubstantial or outmoded. Some sources claim that by 1928 Josie Miles was recording for Gennett in Richmond, IN as Missionary Josephine Miles (aka Evangelist Mary Flowers), backed on piano by Sister Elizabeth Cooper. She spent the rest of her days in Kansas City, MO and was mortally injured in an automobile accident at some point in the 1950s or 60s. Most of her surviving recordings were reissued on compact disc by Document during the 1990s. ~ arwulf arwulf