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Hall of Fame - Ernest Mae Miller




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Ernest Mae Miller (1927 - 2010) was born on February 7, 1927 to Lizzie Anderson Crafton and Otto Henry Crafton in Austin, Texas. Miller began playing the piano by ear after listening to her grandmother’s records. She was discovered to be musically gifted by the time she was five years old. She took lessons for a time from a teacher in Waco. At Anderson High School, where there was no need for a piano player, she switched to saxophone. It was also while in high school, she saw live performances of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others when they toured in Austin. 

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. While the group performed in New York City, and at the Plantation Club in St. Louis they performed on the same bill with Billie Holliday. 

Miller met her first husband, James "Spizzy" Canfield at the Apollo Theater in New York and they had one son. Moving back to Austin, she later married Hammitt Miller, five sons were born. Of the six sons, only one is a musician. She enrolled at Houston Tillotson and studied music.  

Miller began her solo career as a jazz pianist and vocalist soon after returning to Austin. Club appearances included, Dinty Moore restaurant and bar on West Sixth Street, the New Orleans Club, at 11th and Red River streets, Flamingo Lounge, and the Jade Room. She recorded a live album, "At the New Orleans," which displayed a range from Billie Holiday-styled vocals to swinging Dixieland. One of the songs from that album, "Little Girl Blue," was later covered by Janis Joplin, who lived in Austin during Miller's heyday. She was a regular at the Driskill and Commodore Perry Hotels. Her music career span was more than fifty years. 

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