Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview

Emmett Miller

There are dozens of unsung heroes in the annals of country music; some are instrumentalists, like the legendary Georgia fiddler Joe Lee, who introduced the “long bow” style to greats like Clayton McMichen; some are songwriters, like the gospel singer Grady Cole, who wrote “Tramp on the Street”; others were promoters and radio personalities, like the late Eddie Hill, who helped introduce the music of the Louvin Brothers to a wide audience. But one of the most unsung, and one of the most mysterious, was a remarkable blackface comedian and singer named Emmett Miller. He flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, made a handful of records, and left an indelible impression on several generations of major country singers.

How major? Try Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan, the Callahan Brothers, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard. Hank Williams had Miller’s old 78s in his personal record collection; Merle Haggard dedicated his I Love Dixie Blues album to Miller. What kind of musician could inspire such a wide variety of imitators? Miller’s story is as fascinating as his music.

Until recently, only bits and pieces of Miller’s story had been known, and several of his earliest records are so rare that no copies are even known to survive. Miller himself died before historians could interview him, and it is doubtful that he even knew the extent of his influence on modern country music. He left behind, though, a number of friends and colleagues who remembered him and kept scrapbooks. Best of all, one of them preserved a “self-interview” that Miller did in the 1940s—a script he gave to local radio announcers when he was doing personal appearances in the area. In it, Miller describes himself and his partner as minstrel men. And it was this tradition, not folk music or blues or country music, that gave Miller his start.

We now know that Emmett Miller was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1903. In 1919, when he was only sixteen, he started performing as a

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Classic Country: Legends of Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Part I - From the Hall of Fame 1
  • The Carter Family 2
  • Roy Acuff 19
  • Lefty Frizzell 27
  • Grandpa Jones 33
  • Pee Wee King 38
  • Bill Monroe 44
  • Hank Snow 50
  • Kitty Wells 56
  • Part II - From the Victrola 63
  • Fiddlin’ John Carson 64
  • Vernon Dalhart 70
  • Riley Puckett 76
  • Charlie Poole 82
  • The Georgia Yellow Hammers 85
  • Darby and Tarlton 89
  • Part III - From the Airwaves 93
  • Lew Childre 94
  • The Blue Sky Boys 97
  • Brown’s Ferry Four 103
  • Cousin Emmy 106
  • The Monroe Brothers 109
  • Wayne Raney 114
  • Karl and Harty 117
  • Bradley Kincaid 125
  • Part IV - From the Shadows: Unsung Heroes 129
  • Tommy Magness 130
  • Arthur Q. Smith 143
  • Zeke and Zeb Turner 146
  • Johnny Barfield 152
  • The Rouse Brothers 155
  • Seven Foot Dilly 165
  • The Jordanaires 175
  • Deford Bailey 178
  • Emmett Miller 182
  • Tommy Jackson 185
  • Jimmie Riddle 188
  • Part V - From the Stage: Classic Country 193
  • Curly Fox and Texas Ruby 194
  • The Delmore Brothers 197
  • Don Gibson 203
  • The Louvin Brothers 215
  • The Statler Brothers 221
  • Martha Carson 236
  • The Carlisles 239
  • Albert E. Brumley 243
  • Stringbean 247
  • Part VI - From the West 257
  • Girls of the Golden West 258
  • Billie Maxwell 261
  • Red River Dave 265
  • Skeets Mcdonald 268
  • Part VII - New Fogies 273
  • Hazel and Alice 274
  • Doc Watson 279
  • Roy Harper 285
  • The Freight Hoppers 294
  • Acknowledgments 300
  • Index 301
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