Saturday, 5 October 2013
Mrs. Miller born 5 October 1907
Elva Ruby Connes Miller (October 5, 1907 – July 5, 1997), who recorded under the name Mrs. Miller, was an American singer who gained some fame in the 1960s for her out-of-tune versions of songs such as "Moon River", "Monday, Monday", "A Lover's Concerto", and "Downtown". She sang in an untrained, Mermanesque, vibrato-laden voice. According to Irving Wallace, David Wallechinsky, and Amy Wallace in The Book of Lists 2, her voice was compared to the sound of "roaches scurrying across a trash can lid."
Miller's rendition of Downtown sounds like a karaoke version as she sings over a professional instrumental section. She briefly breaks into giggling and several times apparently forgets the lyrics. Nevertheless, her Downtown single reached the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in April of 1966, peaking at #82. The single's B-side, A Lover’s Concerto, just barely cracked the Hot 100 that same month at #95.
Elva Connes was born in Joplin, Missouri, to Edward and Ada (Martin) Connes. She grew up in Missouri and Kansas. In 1934 she married John Richardson Miller and moved with him to Claremont, California. She studied music, voice, and composition at Pomona College, and involved herself in church and community projects. She said singing was "a hobby", but produced several records, mainly of classical, gospel, and children's songs. She self-financed and recorded at least one 45 ("Slumber Song"), and distributed it to local orphanages. It was while making a such recording that arranger Fred Bock heard her. He convinced her to try more modern songs, and took the recordings to different record labels.
KMPC disc jockey (and later Laugh-In announcer) Gary Owens featured Mrs. Miller on his radio program, as early as 1960, and around that time, she also appeared on a limited-run album of his comedy routines. Owens can certainly be credited to have first discovered her, as her later success on Capitol Records didn't take place until late 1965.
Mrs. Miller was signed to Capitol Records by Lex de Azevedo, a young up-and-coming producer at Capitol Records. His uncle, Bill Conkling, was the then-current president of Capitol Records. Azevedo was also a member of The King Family. He is now a successful music producer in the Mormon Church, and when approached, does not care to discuss his involvement with Mrs. Miller.
Mrs. Miller's success, like that of Florence Foster Jenkins and Wing, was due to the perceived amateurishness of her singing. Capitol Records seemed eager to emphasize it—in a 1967 interview with Life magazine, Miller herself claimed that during recording sessions she was deliberately conducted a half beat ahead or behind time, and claimed the worst of several different recordings of a song would be chosen for the finished album.
Her first LP, ironically titled Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits, appeared in 1966. Made up entirely of pop songs, it sold over 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. KMPC disc jockey Gary Owens wrote the liner notes. Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?! followed, and The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller came a year later.
Mrs. Miller sang for US servicemen in Vietnam, performed at the Hollywood Bowl, guest starred on numerous television shows, and appeared in Roddy McDowall's film The Cool Ones. However, interest in Mrs. Miller soon waned. She was dropped by Capitol, and in 1968 she released her final album, Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing, on the Amaret label. She later issued several singles on her own Vibrato Records label, then retired from singing in the early 1970s.
She apparently was unaware at first that her musical ability was being ridiculed, but eventually realized it and decided to go along with the joke. She attributed her break with Capitol to her wanting to sing correctly and record ballads, while Capitol wanted to continue the "so bad it's good" style.
A couple of rare Mrs. Miller performances have appeared on YouTube. It is plain to see by these performances that Miller was capable of skipping beats, and missing cues, all by herself.
She "retired" sometime around 1972, when interest in her career almost completely waned out. She spent her remaining years doing
charity work and died while living in a nursing home.
Elva Miller died in Garden Terrace Retirement Center, in Vista, California, in 1997, at the age of 89. She was interred in Pomona Mausoleum, at Pomona Valley Memorial Park, in Pomona, CA. That same year, a compilation CD of her work was released on Capitol's Ultra-Lounge label: Wild, Cool & Swingin', The Artist Collection Vol. 3: Mrs. Miller. (Info Wikipedia)