Clarence Horatius Miller

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Clarence Horatius Miller
Also known asBig Miller
Born(1922-12-18)December 18, 1922[1]
Sioux City, Iowa, United States
DiedJune 9, 1992(1992-06-09) (aged 69)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
GenresBlues, Jump blues
Years active1949–1992

Clarence Horatius "Big" Miller (December 18, 1922 – June 9, 1992) was an American jazz and blues singer and bassist, chiefly associated with the Kansas City blues style.


Early years[edit]

Miller was born in Sioux City and grew up in Topeka, Kansas. His mother was descended from black slaves and his father was a preacher, of mixed black and Lakota origin.[1] He studied the trombone and bass in high school.[2] Miller was 193 cm in height (6 ft., 3.5 inches) and weighed more than 115 kilograms (over 250 lb.). He acquired the nickname "Big" while playing football as a teenager.[3]

His proximity to Kansas City influenced his style. By 1949, "Big" began singing with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. His first full-time professional job was with the Jay McShann Orchestra where he became a featured performer.[1] It was during this time that his vocal talents began to be recognized. He won fame as a "blues shouter", a singer whose voice was powerful enough, without microphone amplification, for an auditorium—even with big band accompaniment. He also occasionally performed on trombone.

In 1954, after five years with Jay McShann, Miller joined the Fletcher Henderson Reunion Orchestra. He became a popular performer in renowned jazz venues such as Birdland in New York, the Cotton Club in Chicago, and Detroit's Flame Showbar. It was with the Henderson Orchestra that "Big" did his first recording and it was in this period that his career really began to take off. He recorded for Savoy Records early in his career, including with The Five Pennies as backing musicians. His jazz activities also included work with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

As a vocalist, Miller first rose to national prominence at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival where he appeared with a group led by trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. This led to a New York session with Brookmeyer's ensemble that was released on a well-reviewed LP, The Kansas City Sound, which has since been re-released on CD.[4] After performing with John Hendricks's revue, The Evolution of the Blues, Miller signed with Columbia Records and released several full-length albums,[5] including Big Miller Sings, Twists, Shouts and Preaches (1962).[6]

He became a popular performer in renowned jazz venues such as Monterey Jazz Festival (1960), Birdland in New York City, the Cotton Club in Chicago, Montreux Jazz Festival, and Detroit's Flame Showbar. Throughout his career he had performed with jazz legends such as Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, just to name a few.


Discouraged by racial tensions in the mainland United States, he began touring other countries and lived for a while in Australia and then Hawaii.[2] In the 1970s Miller toured with Big Joe Turner. Miller found himself stranded in Vancouver when one of his tours ran out of money. He travelled around Western Canada and in 1970 settled in Edmonton, Alberta.[5] He became a Canadian citizen in 1973[2] and lived there for the rest of his life, working with local musician Tommy Banks, and covering "Big Yellow Taxi" with the song's composer, Saskatchewan-born Joni Mitchell. Miller played a major role in the growth of the Edmonton Jazz Society, which began in the late 1970s, and taught at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts.[5] Miller helped to organize Edmonton's Jazz City Festival.[3]

He was the subject of a 1980 documentary "Big and the Blues", produced through the National Film Board of Canada.[7]

He had a short side career as an actor, appearing in Big Meat Eater (1982), A Name for Evil (1973), and a cameo in the comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

"Big" Miller died in 1992 in Edmonton at the age of 69, of a heart attack.[3]



Tributes to Miller include a piano solo piece by Jay McShann entitled "Big Miller's Blues", and a track by the Canadian band Shuffle Demons called "Never Be the Same: Big Miller Blues".[5]

The city of Edmonton named the park outside the Yardbird Suite jazz club after Miller.


As leader[edit]

  • Did You Ever Hear the Blues? (United Artists, 1959)
  • Revelations and the Blues (Columbia, 1961)
  • Sings, Twists, Shouts and Preaches with Bob Florence (Columbia, 1962)
  • "Big" Miller (Radio Canada International, 1978)
  • Live from Calgary (Black Bear, 1982)
  • Live at Athabasca University (Stony Plain, 1990)
  • Last of the Blues Shouters (Southland, 1992)
  • Big Miller and the Tommy Banks Band and Quartet (Century II, 1997)

As guest[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Big Miller – Heritage Community Foundation". Archived from the original on December 8, 2010. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c ""Big" Miller". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Oliver, Myrna. "Clarence Miller; Singer With Jazz Groups", Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1992
  4. ^ "Kansas City Sound", Blue Sounds.
  5. ^ a b c d Eugene Chadbourne, Big Miller at Allmusic.
  6. ^ Vladimir, Bogdanov. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues, Backbeat Books, page 42, (2003) – ISBN 0-87930-736-6
  7. ^ "National Film Board of Canada". October 11, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  8. ^ "Search Awards". Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  • Jon B. Hittle, Jazz Town, Weekender Magazine, Sioux City Journal, March 2004.

External links[edit]