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Ernie Mae Miller

Ernest Mae Miller was born on February 7, 1927 to Lizzie Anderson Crafton and Otto Henry Crafton in Austin, Texas. Miller is the granddaughter of L.C. Anderson who was born into slavery, attended Fisk University, and became the third President of Prairie View Normal and Industrial College, the forerunner of Prairie View A & M University, succeeding his brother E.H. Anderson. Her grandfather would later become the principal of his namesake school, L.C. Anderson High School in Austin, Texas from 1886 to 1920. Miller graduated from this high school in 1944 at age fourteen.

Miller began playing the piano by ear after listening to her grandmother’s records on the family victrola. She was discovered to be musically gifted by the time she was five years old. After graduating from high school, Miller attended Prairie View A & M University where she was invited to play the baritone saxophone with the Prairie View Co-Ed Jazz Band.

The Prairie View Co-Eds were one of several African American all-girl bands that were popular with African American audiences in the mid-1940s. Miller traveled with the sixteen-piece band that performed for servicemen at army camps and forts all over the United States. The Prairie View Co-Eds performed in Tuskegee, Alabama on the same show with Bob Hope, Vaughn Monroe, and Anita O’Day in New York City and at the Plantation Club in St. Louis with Billie Holliday. Miller began her solo career as a jazz pianist and vocalist. She has played for most of the prominent hotels, events and exclusive parties in the Austin community. Miller was the featured performer for fifteen years at the Old New Orleans Club in Austin.

Though the Prairie View Co-Eds were never recorded and omitted from jazz and swing history, Miller has recorded two albums both titled Ernie Mae at the Old New Orleans Club and her career spanned over forty years. Ernest Mae Miller died on December 9, 2010 after battling a long illness. She was 83 years old.

Ernie Mae Miller was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 7, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.051

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/7/2007

Last Name

Miller

Maker Category
Middle Name

Mae

Organizations
Schools

Olive Street School

L.C. Anderson High School

Prairie View A&M University

Theodore Kealing Middle School

First Name

Ernest

Birth City, State, Country

Austin

HM ID

MIL04

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

If You Want To Hear Me Play, Call Ernie Mae.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

2/7/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Austin

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Meatloaf

Death Date

12/9/2010

Short Description

Jazz singer and jazz musician Ernie Mae Miller (1927 - 2010 ) began her solo career as a jazz pianist and vocalist after performing with an all girl band during World War II. She played for most of the prominent hotels, events and exclusive parties in the Austin, Texas community. Miller was the featured performer for fifteen years at the Old New Orleans Club in Austin.

Employment

New Orleans Club

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ernie Mae Miller's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ernie Mae Miller lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ernie Mae Miller talks about her sisters

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her early interest in music

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her neighborhood in Austin, Texas, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her maternal great-great-grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ernie Mae Miller describes the Olive Street School in Austin, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her neighborhood in Austin, Texas, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ernie Mae Miller recalls her teachers at Olive Street School in Austin, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers her childhood piano teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers Olive Street Elementary School in Austin, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers playing in the L.C. Anderson High School band

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ernie Mae Miller describes Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her experiences in the Prairie View Co-eds band

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her childhood during the Great Depression

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers travelling with the Prairie View Co-eds band

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her grandfather and the Prairie View Co-eds

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers performing at the Apollo Theater in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ernie Mae Miller recalls the members of the Prairie View Co-eds band

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her husbands and sons

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers her nightclub career in Austin, Texas, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers her nightclub career in Austin, Texas, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ernie Mae Miller recalls recording two albums at The Old New Orleans Club in Austin, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ernie Mae Miller talks about her signature songs

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ernie Mae Miller recalls performing with bands in Austin, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ernie Mae Miller describes her performances in Austin's senior centers

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers meeting Billie Holiday and other jazz singers

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers performing for President Lyndon Baines Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ernie Mae Miller remembers playing for politician J.J. Pickle

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ernie Mae Miller reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ernie Mae Miller shares her advice for aspiring musicians

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ernie Mae Miller talks about her musical arrangements

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ernie Mae Miller describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ernie Mae Miller narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

8$5

DATitle
Ernie Mae Miller describes her early interest in music
Ernie Mae Miller remembers her nightclub career in Austin, Texas, pt. 1
Transcript
Now tell me about when you were elementary school age and you're living now in Austin [Texas] with your [maternal] grandparents (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Grandparents, yes.$$Tell me about that?$$Well, my grandfather [L.C. Anderson] was principal of the Anderson High School [E.H. Anderson High School; L.C. Anderson High School, Austin, Texas] here and I remember, I remember, and I have a picture where I was standing under a little kid umbrella and he had, had me come over there, I was always playing the piano, I don't know, I guess I was just, my grandmother [Fannie Pollard Anderson] used to play the piano and all and so he had me come over there and play one day in the, in chapel and they had, and I think the song I played was, "Peter Peter pumpkin eater (laughter), had a wife and couldn't keep her, put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well," and I think, there were two things and I got a big applause and that was also but, I think I was about five years old and they took a picture of me doing that. I have the picture here but, and they thought it was real nice that I would do that but I never was, I never had stage fright in my life, you know. So I was just a little girl and I ran on over to, they had such a grand and played this song for them, and that's--$$How did you learn to play the piano?$$I really started playing the piano, I used to listen to my, my grandmother had an old Victrola that you'd wind up and she had a lot of records and I would just play those records over and over and over and wind the Victrola and sometimes fall asleep on the Victrola and, but I had a good ear and I would go in the living room, we had a piano and I'm going, in a little bit and I started picking that out, I guess by ear, I'm sure it was by ear and then they decided to give me music lessons and so from then on I just kept on improving and a lot of times, a lot of times now, if I can have the sheet music, I read it but it sounds so mechanical, it's not me to just have to play everything that was written on that sheet music. I, I would change it in a way and put some of Ernie Mae [HistoryMaker Ernie Mae Miller] in it and it seemed like it passed melody (laughter) and I played it like it was from the way and I'd say, "Well, Mom [Lizzie Anderson Crafton], everybody plays it the way it's supposed to be, so, but I play it the way I liked it," and really it paid off 'cause all my life I had played piano. I used to play at Sunday school and then there were a, there was a pastor, Reverend C.E. Whitaker [ph.], that was at the Methodist church at Wesley Chapel Methodist Church [Austin, Texas] and he used to take me when I was a little girl to their little conferences that they would have around and towns and small towns here in Texas and he'd have me play and I think at one I sang 'Jesus Loves Me' and they, all the people at church just started, I was just a little girl, but I just really did love playing piano and still do and whenever I get, oh, whenever I get kind of upset or something, I go sit on the piano and it seems like the words just float right out the window and, you know, I was good about word about things, I'd go over and play and it tranquilizes me, okay.$$Now, you said your grandfather was the principal at the high school?$$Right.$$Do you remember the name of the high school?$$It was L.C., it was Anderson High School then--$$Okay.$$--but it was named for his brother [E.H. Anderson] first and after his brother had died and my grandfather took over the principal of the school, well Mr. McCallum [Arthur Newell McCallum, Sr.] who was superintendent of schools here in Austin, changed it to L.C. Anderson and so the new Anderson on Mesa Drive now, is really integrated and one of the best schools here in Austin, best high school and it was named for him, Laurine Cecil Anderson, and they have his picture in the library out there.$So after you marry--$$Hammitt.$$--Hammitt Miller, and you're out of Prairie View [Prairie View University; Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, Texas], do you, are you at home with your children or--$$Yeah, my (simultaneous)--$$--(Simultaneous) do you begin to--$$My husband worked in the daytime and I worked at night.$$Okay.$$I was playing, I'd start playing the piano, you know, in clubs and I mean I kept very busy. I'd work sometimes seven nights a week and then other times I did maybe six nights, five nights or something like that but that's when I really worked in nearly every, well in every hotel here in Austin [Texas] at the time and, and different clubs and they were all, you know, integrated about that time, you know, so I had, and--$$Do you remember the first integrated club that you played?$$The first, the first club I played was called Dinty Moore's [Austin, Texas] and it was on West 6th Street here in Austin and they had a, the piano was way in the back of the room, it was a long room there and one, I was playing and I looked up on top of the piano, it was a straight old upright piano and there was a rat sitting up there (laughter). Oh, it frightened me a little, the dead rat sat there and crossed his leg, listening to me play (laughter). It wasn't really a rat though, you know, but I was a little frightened. They got him out of there (laughter). I guess the music charmed him or something, I don't know. So, if I can charm a rat, I guess I can do pretty good.$$What did you--$$So that was really a funny thing.$$When, what year did you start playing in the clubs?$$In the clubs, '49 [1949].$$Okay, so that was right after you had your, gotten married?$$Yeah.$$Okay, all right.$$And so I played at the Driskill Hotel [Austin, Texas], the Sheraton Hotel, the Hilton Hotel, the Hyatt Regency hotel (laughter) and all the main hotels and they had me playing solo piano, you know, and singing and I had a lot of fans and one day I was playing, well, I didn't do this at most of the big hotels and thing but there was a little song called, 'Ice Man,' it was a marvelous song like and so one lady in there, she jumped and said, "Why you shock my modesty," you know, it was just a kind a little funny song with, you know, little, had a little life to it, you know, "You shock my modesty," she said that in front of, and one man in the audience said, "Oh you shut up, you have slept with the president," I don't know if I can say. She stormed on out the door and everybody almost fell out of their seats laughing. Then the, because it was right funny but she just said I had shocked her modesty but it wasn't that bad of a song, it was just funny, you know. And I did, and so I started singing a lot of little songs like that, one called, 'I'm A Woman,' that Peggy Lee did, and I don't know who wrote the song but I got ahold of it and, and it, right now, people say, play 'I'm A Woman,' you know, W-O-M-A-N, and so I used to, I still play that song and the crowd enjoys it but it wasn't nothing like what they do now like they get on the stage and do all that shaking and doing all, well, you know, that, those little songs weren't vulgar, they were just a little bit suggestive, you know, but, that's, but when this lady told me that and then she stormed on out the door 'cause the man had told her, "I know where you slept last," you know, something like that and she stormed out and that was kind of, I didn't laugh, I was (laughter), it was just, it was real funny.