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Emmett Miller

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Biography

Although his vocal delivery was influential on several major country singers, Emmett Miller was basically a vaudeville singer, with far stronger aural links to Al Jolson than Merle Haggard. A white man performing in blackface, Miller was an exponent of the minstrel school of performance, touring widely with minstrel shows for several decades. The most influential aspect of his recordings were his yodeling trill, and there can be no doubt that it heavily influenced country singers such as Jimmie Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell, and Hank Williams (who learned "Lovesick Blues" from a Miller record). Bob Wills asked his early lead singer to copy Miller's style, and a bit of Miller's easygoing ragtime sensibility can be heard in Leon Redbone.

But Miller, to quote Donald Sutherland's description of John Milton in Animal House, does not speak well to our generation. That's not just because the vaudeville arrangements of his 1920s recordings will strike most modern-day listeners as quaint. It's also because the blackface minstrel tradition — which was just part of the scene in Miller's heyday — strikes as somewhat distasteful in the post-segregation era in its perpetuation of some disagreeable black stereotypes.

Miller began recording for OKeh in the mid-'20s and made his most important singles for the label at the end of the decade with accompaniment by the Georgia Crackers, which included both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The minstrel tradition faded drastically in popularity after 1930, although Miller did record for Bluebird in 1936 and continued to perform in minstrel shows to dwindling crowds through the early '50s.

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Born:

February 2, 1900 in Macon, GA

Genre
Years Active:

'20s, '30s

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Contemporaries