Ernie Mae Crafton Miller, was born in 1927 to Otto and Lizzie Anderson Crafton and raised in Austin, Texas. A debutante in the Eastside’s social organization the Cosmopolite Club, Miller was sponsored by an illustrious family that made its name in education, government, and Lone Star real estate. At Prairie View College, she joined an all-girl big-band revue known as the Prairie View Co-Eds, who traveled the country playing army bases, camps, and USOs, even hitting hot spots in New York City.
Afterward, Miller returned to Austin, traded the baritone sax for piano, and by the 1950’s, had established herself as a solo musician and singer — in part because her husband didn’t care for her touring with male musicians. Miller crossed racial lines early, playing clubs patronized by whites such as Dinty Moore’s, and in more recent years, she played nearly every hotel bar in town.
Miller’s most famous gig ended its 16-year run in 1967 at the New Orleans Club on Red River Street, then considered the western end of the Eastside’s 11th Street entertainment district. Popular music in the Sixties underwent the birth of rock & roll, which boosted the audience for its parent genre, rhythm and blues, but the results were not always beneficial to the black community. Nevertheless, traditional musicians such as Miller sometimes found themselves in the most interesting of places with the most interesting of company.
“At the New Orleans Club, I played downstairs, and the 13th Floor Elevators often played upstairs,” recalls Miller. “One night it rained, and the place got flooded. That night I’d bought a brand-new pair of red suede shoes. You had to walk down about six steps to get to the club, and that night I had to walk — slush, slush — across Coke cases through the water, while upstairs was the Elevators with people dancing. “I sure did like those shoes.”
She passed away in 2010 at the age of 83.
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