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MILLER, ROGER (1936-1992)

Born January 2, 1936, in Fort Worth, Texas, singer-songwriter Roger Miller moved to Erick, Oklahoma, very early in life to live with his aunt and uncle, Armelia and Elmer Miller. In 1937 the young Miller's father died, and his mother could not raise three sons alone during the Great Depression. Sheb Wooley, another Erick resident who achieved fame in the music and film industry, taught Miller to play the guitar. Wooley married Miller's cousin Melva. After driving a truck for the U.S. Army in the Korean conflict and later performing in a Special Services band, the Circle A Wranglers, Miller moved to Nashville to break into the entertainment field. He worked as a bellboy at the Andrew Jackson Hotel while marketing his songs to the music industry.

In the late 1950s Miller achieved success as a songwriter. Musicians such as Ernest Tubbs, Andy Williams, George Jones, Jim Reeves, Ray Price, and Faron Young recorded his music. Despite previous recording contracts with Starday and Decca records and modest success with RCA, Miller's performing career did not blossom until he signed with Smash Records. He had almost given up on music. After appearing on the Tonight Show, with Jimmy Dean as guest host, Miller received praise for his television presence and decided to pursue acting. To raise the money for a move to California he signed with Smash and recorded fifteen tracks in 1964. Songs in this recording session included "Chug-a-lug" and "Dang Me." The latter climbed high on both the pop and country charts, became his first gold record, and earned Miller his first Grammy Award. "Chug-a-lug" and "Do Wacka Do" followed "Dang Me's" success. In 1965 his signature song, "King of the Road," blasted to Number One on the country chart and Number Four on the pop chart. With his popularity came comparison to well-known Oklahomans, his song writing to Woody Guthrie and his homespun humor to Will Rogers. In 1966 NBC premiered Miller's own television variety show. The company canceled the program after thirteen weeks.

In the late 1960s Miller had some radio success with "Walking on Sunshine," "Green Apples," and the first recording of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobbie McGee." His career slowed significantly in the 1970s. In 1973 he wrote songs and provided the voice for a character in Disney's animated movie Robin Hood. His career received an uplift in 1982 when he recorded a duet with Willie Nelson titled "Old Friends." In 1985 Miller wrote the score for Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Broadway play, which was named best musical of 1985. The play starred John Goodman and provided Miller with a Tony Award for best music and lyrics. Through the course of his career Miller won eleven Grammy Awards and in 1988 received the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award. Roger Miller died on October 25, 1992, in Los Angeles, California, of cancer. His third wife, Mary Miller, survived him. In 1995 the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Miller.

SEE ALSO: COUNTRY MUSIC, OKLAHOMA AND HOLLYWOOD, WESTERN SWING, SHELBY WOOLEY.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: David Ewen, American Songwriters: An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1987). Colin Larkin, ed., The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Chester, Conn.: New England Publishing Association, 1992). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 27 October 1992.

Larry O'Dell

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