Clarence Horatius "Big" Miller was born in Sioux City,
Iowa on December 18, 1922. His mother was the descendent of black
slaves and his father was a preacher of mixed black and Sioux
origin. As a teenager, Miller's family moved to Topeka, Kansas.
There, he studied trombone and bass in high school. He also began
developing his singing voice in the style of a Kansas City blues
shouter. By 1949, Big began singing with the Lionel Hampton
Orchestra and became a feature performer with the Jay McShann
Orchestra. In 1954, after five years with Jay McShann, Miller
joined the Fletcher Henderson Reunion Orchestra. 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 became a
popular performer in renowned jazz venues such as Birdland in New
York, the Cotton Club in Chicago, and Detroit's Flame Showbar.
discouraged by racial tensions in the United States, Miller began
touring considerably in other countries. In 1967, he decided to
relocate to Australia and then Honolulu. He continued to perform
but became a booking agent as well, forming the Milro
Mary Roth. However, Miller soon found himself back in North
America in support of his United Artists record Evolution of
the Blues Song.
When the tour ran out of money, Big found himself stranded in
Vancouver. He ended up working his way across Canada to get back
to the United States. He played several clubs in Edmonton
including Tommy Banks' The Embers. In the next few years,
Miller continued to tour fairly extensively across Canada always
returning to Edmonton to play at the Embers, The Saxony, or
the Sheraton Caravan Penthouse. Here he felt safe from much
of the racial prejudice that had plagued him in the United States.
Loving the city, in 1970, Big made Edmonton his permanent home and
in 1973 became a proud Canadian citizen.
Miller continued to play in bars and hotels across Alberta as well
as international festivals. In 1979, he and Tommy Banks won a JUNO
Award for a live recording they made at the renowned Montreax Jazz
Festival in Switzerland. In 1981, the National Film Board of
Canada made a documentary of his life entitled Big
and the Blues. In 1985, he was honoured with an honorary
doctorate in the humanities from Athabasca University. A performer
to the end, Dr. Clarence "Big" Miller died of a heart
attack in June 1992. Throughout his career he had performed with
jazz legends such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson,
Dizzie Gillespie, and Miles Davis, just to name a few.
Today, the Big Miller
Bandwagon Committee are campaigning to have a life-size bronze
statue of Big placed in a park setting names Big Miller Park near
the Yardbird Suite on Tommy Banks Way in Edmonton as a permanent
tribute to this musical giant.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.