A man of music, Fred W. Miller's compositions left national mark


First Regiment Band of Hannibal Missouri 1910. Boys in front: Carl and Arnold Lambertz. Band members include, front row, Fred Lindstrom, Bass Drum; George Digel, Bb Clarinet; Charles Wilcox, Eb Clarinet; Fred W. Miller, Bb Clarinet; Vincent Holmes, Soprano Saxophone; Clarence Lampton, Alto Saxophone; Arthur Nugent, Tenor Saxophone; Harry Mausberger, Baritone Saxophone; Earl Kenning, Bassoon; Archie Leonard, Snare Drum. Second row: Louis DeZall, Cornet; Walter Glass, Flute; Conrad, Schmidt, Bb Clarinet; Emil Schanbacher, Bb Clarinet; Chester Stewart, Bb Clarinet; Earl Lilly, Alto Horn; Lee Kriegbaum, Alto Horn; Flavius Parker, Alto Horn; George Ham, Alto Horn. third row: John Kreamer Bb Clarinet, James Rose, Cornet; Rolla Stweart, Cornet; Alfred Call, Baritone; John Lambertz, Cornet and Band Leader; James Cole, Trombone; George Petter, Trombone; Robert Young, Trombone; Cortis Leonard, Trombone. Back row: Earl Cattle, Tuba; Thomas Rigler, String Bass; Joe Vehl, Tuba. Courtesy of Linda Ham Thompson, great granddaughter of band member George Ham. (Note that the names and faces don't quite line up, but they are fairly close. Fred W. Miller is believed to be third from the left on the front row. George Ham is believed to be seated at the far right on the second row.)

Click here for photo courtesy of the Quincy Public Library

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

For the Courier-Post

At one time there existed, just to the north of Palmyra near Gebhardt’s hill, a picturesque locale featuring breathtaking sunsets and a popular swimming hole. The branches of an old elm tree reached out to the hill overlooking North River, right at the spot where the river made a bend, near what was known as the “Rock Cut” along the narrow road at the foot of the hill.

The Palmyra Spectator of April 29, 1951, describes the scene as such: “Before the present highway 61 pavement was built, the road leading north out of Palmyra passed by both cemeteries to the top of the hill, and then to the northeast down the hill over the railroad track, where a small building stood at the crossing that sheltered the watchman of this dangerous crossing.”

The Rock Cut watchman, for many years, was Frederick Miller, a German immigrant who settled with his wife at Palmyra in 1863. On this scenic spot, together, they raised their family, including Fredrick W. Miller, born in 1871, who matured into a noted musician and composer.

The younger Miller would recall this idyllic scene – which was later lost to highway construction – when he composed “My Old Southern Home,” which was popular in sheet music and received wide national radio play during the 1920s.

Fred W. Miller

Miller’s first music education, pre-1900, came from Jacob G. Berghofer, who instructed and directed the German Lutheran Band at Palmyra in 1891. By the late 1890s the group had evolved into the Palmyra Progress band, of which Fred W. Miller was a member, performing on the piccolo and flute. Other members included: Ed. Mitchell, S.A. Weyand, Frank Menge, Harry Burgdorf, Homer Huggins, Lewellyn Ellis, Tom Rogers and Henry Boetjer.

In May 1899, a year after moving to Hannibal, Fred W. Miller returned for a visit to his hometown in order to play with the Florentine Mandolin Club, one of Palmyra’s most popular musical organizations. Club members included Lewellyn Ellis, Mr. Miller, Homer Huggins and Wm. Stevens.

Upon moving to Hannibal, Miller joined the First Regiment Band under the direction of John Lambertz, who served as leader of the band for 23 years. Prof. Lambertz left Hannibal in 1913 to pursue the management the Lyric Theater of Jackson, Tenn.

The Hannibal Courier-Post on March 17, 1956, offered a summary of Fred W. Miller’s musical career:

“In the year 1903 he became a member of the old Park Theatre orchestra, playing in the days of Maude Adams, Robert Mantell, Richard Mansfield, the Barrymores and Lillian Russell. When the Park Theatre organization was dissolved in 1914, he transferred to the orchestra at the Star Theatre, owned and managed by J.B. Price, where he continued to play until 1927. In 1911 he became a member of the Fifth Infantry Band at Quincy, Ill., directed by Chief Musician Emil Reinkendorf.

“Mr. Miller, a charter member of Musicians Local Union No. 448, was always on call to play at the Orpheum Theatre, during the days of vaudeville and large stage productions. Some of the local musicians with whom he played are Walter Glass, Mrs. Yola Saunders, Herman Herring, James Cole and the Bates twins (who at the time of Miller’s death in 1956 were living in Billings, Mont.) He also played with Charles Warner, Wilbur Hite, Howard Hopps, Verne Neely, Carl Lambertz and Arnold Lambertz.”

In April 1920, The Palmyra Spectator mentioned that Fred Miller had signed a contract with the Shriners’ Band of St. Louis, and planned to go to Portland, Oregon to make music for a Masonic celebration. He expected to be in Oregon for six months.

The Palmyra Spectator of Aug. 31, 1927, carried a notice about Miller’s health:

“Fred Miller, of Hannibal, was here yesterday. We regret to learn that Fred is losing his hearing and has been forced to give up playing in his orchestra. He does not expect to play again but will continue writing and composing music, for which he has gained a wide reputation. A number of his compositions are being used by the best bands in the country and the large phonograph companies are using them.”

Palmyra came out enforce in 1929 to hear a musical festival on the courthouse lawn. Present were a band, orchestra, quartet and a number of leading vocalists from Palmyra and Hannibal, presenting a two-hour program using only Miller’s compositions. “It was conceded to be the largest crowd ever to assemble on the courthouse lawn for any occasion, and one of the finest programs ever heard,” the Palmyra Spectator reported on Aug. 29, 1951.

On Dec. 21, 1932, the Palmyra Spectator described the pride of the community over a radio broadcast the night prior.

“Many Palmyra and Marion County people tuned in on radio station WLW at Cincinnati, Ohio last night and heard the famous Armco Brass Band, of Middleton, Ohio, render Fred Miller’s composition “The Palmyra Spectator March.”

Miller had written the march and dedicated it to his hometown newspaper, the “Palmyra Spectator, Missouri’s oldest newspaper.”

The newspaper reported that during introduction to the march, the announcer noted: “The march is a very pleasing one and it was rendered in a fine manner. We have heard many compliments passed on Mr. Miller’s march. He is the composer of a number of excellent band pieces and is establishing a fine reputation in the musical world.”

Miller’s march, “Mark Twain Centennial,” was performed by the Sixth Infantry band in its connection with President Roosevelt Day in Hannibal and the dedication of the new Mark Twain bridge in September 1936.

In March 1951, the Palmyra Spectator reported that Clara Baker, accompanied on the piano by her mother, Mrs. Orla Baker, entertained the Providence School PTA by performing “My Old Southern Home,” the song written by Mr. Miller in reference to his childhood home north of Palmyra. “The song gained national popularity shortly after its publication, about (circa 1921). At this time radio was young, and this melody was familiar to radio listeners in the early days.”

Miller’s band and orchestra arrangements include:

• “My Petite Louise,” honoring his daughter,

• “The Ozark Trail,”

• “The Oasis,”

• “Arkansas Sodbuster,” dedicated to Larkin Shaffer of Palmyra. Mr. Shaffer died in 1936.

• “Down in Dear Old Dixie Land,”

• A march which was played by the Washington Marine Band and which was accepted officially as the “President Coolidge March,”

• “Just to be with you again,” honoring his wife, and

• “The Palmyra Spectator March” which was played numerous times by the Hannibal High School Band, under the direction of J.M. Dillinger.

Vocal numbers penned Mr. Miller include:

• My Sweet Algerian Rose,”

• “Sleep My Dusky Babe,”

• “When Mammy Sings Her Goodnight Lullaby,”

• “Close Your Eyes Honey,”

• “Chicken Man,” and

• “The Iron Train,”

• Dixie Land.”

Sadly, Florence A. Miller, wife of Fred W. Miller, died during June 1936, following a three-year illness. Surviving was her husband and two children. Mr. Miller would live another 30 years, dying in 1956 at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Elmo (Louise Miller) Keithly, at her home on Grand Avenue in Hannibal. Both Mr. and Mrs. Miller are buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Palmyra.

Barber by trade

While Fred Miller gained accolades and respect from his music, it was not how he earned his living. He was a barber by trade, working first in Palmyra as early as 1889, and later in Hannibal. The Marion County Herald offers a mention of Fred Miller’s barbershop in the town’s business district at the beginning of January 1895, when he was 24 years old. Three years later he moved his shop to Hannibal. All told, he worked as a barber for 67 years; 26 years operating his own shop at the old Conklin Hotel on Broadway, and the last 15 years of his life working at the Charles A. Barnes Barber Shop. Mr. Miller was a member of Barbers Local No. 271.

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