Born in Virginia in August of 1844, Polk Miller lived a remarkable life. While growing up on his father’s plantation, he had great exposure to African American music and culture. In addition to learning how to play banjo and guitar, he was a veteran of the Confederate Army, he owned a successful pharmacy business (for humans and animals), he was a gifted storyteller, writer, and respected entertainer.
The story of Polk Miller and the men of the Old South Quartette is a quintessential example of the American experience. As Mark Twain said, “I think that Polk Miller and his wonderful four, is about the only thing the country can furnish that is originally and utterly American. Possibly it can furnish something more enjoyable, but I must doubt it until I forget that musical earthquake, ‘The Watermelon Party’.”
Yes, Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette were very successful; nevertheless, this story also exposes many of the deep civil rights issues of the time.
The recordings: although the 1909 Edison cylinders are not extremely rare, it took years of searching to find clean examples for transfer. These acoustic cylinders were electrically recorded using a variety of techniques, including Glen Sage’s 4-1/2 foot tone-arm www.tinfoil.com and an Archeophone Universal Cylinder Phonograph courtesy of Kurt Nauck www.78rpm.com. It is important to note that an effort was made to digitally remove inherent recording noise and defects from the Edison cylinder transfers. I quickly rediscovered the assets and liabilities of this process and struggled with which versions to release. The decision was made to release both the unedited versions and the digitally re-mastered versions on this CD, so the listener can decide which version is preferable.
In January of 1960, Jim Walsh published an article on Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette. At this time, Jim was writing a series of articles featuring “Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists”. He was quick to point out that that Polk Miller was one of the few recording artists that actually served in the Civil War. Jim also noted that on November 13, 1909, Polk Miller “was 65 years of age when his recording career both began and ended”. Polk Miller last performed with the Old South Quartette in 1911 and died on October 20, 1913 at the age of sixty-nine.
And 19 years after Polk Miller’s first and last recording session, the Old South Quartette surfaces again. As Doug Seroff states, “The Old South Quartette may have entertained in or around New York City for the last two decades. There’s no known documentation of their activities until they resurfaced, as if walking from a long sleep, in the QRS recording studio, Long Island City, New York, in the autumn of 1928”. The 1928 QRS/Broadway recordings are extremely rare. For example; only one copy of Broadway 5031 has ever been discovered and it is in excellent condition! We are very thankful that a few good examples of each of the QRS 78’s have also survived.
Polk Miller had a rich life and we are fortunate that much of his history remains to share.
Broadway 5031 coutrsey of Roger Misiewicz
Copyright . Ken Flaherty, Jr.. All rights reserved.