Polk Miller & His Old South Quartet
By James Calemine
James "Polk" Miller was born in Virginia during 1844. His story is important because he was one of the earliest examples of a white musician performing with African Americans. Miller traveled with four African American singers from Richmond that called themselves The Old South Quartet.
Besides playing guitar and banjo, Miller was a veteran of the Confederate army and he owned a successful pharmacy business, but his collaboration with the Old South Quartet exposed the civil rights issues of the time. Miller was a purveyor of inter-racial, non-prejudice methods. They played New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland with great success.
The writer Mark Twain once wrote about Miller and his Quartet: “I think that Polk Miller, and his wonderful four, is about the only thing the country can furnish that is originally and utterly American.”
These recordings were made in 1909. The first track, “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, is reported to be one of the only Civil War stories told by a Confederate veteran. “The Laughing Song” remained part of the repertoire in those days. “What A Time” counts as one of the earliest recorded versions of a nineteenth century Negro spiritual.
Twain called “The Watermelon Party” “an earthquake” due to its caricature of African American life. Miller sings lead vocal on “Rise and Shine” “Old Time Religion” was one of the first songs whites introduced a Negro hymnal to their congregation. Other notable tunes include “Oysters And Wine At 2 A.M”, “Pussy Cat Rag”, and “When De Corn Pone’s Hot”, “No Hiding Place Down Here”. This is one of the most historic and interesting CDs of 2008, a must for one's collection.