Musician. He received world-wide notoriety as one of the most influential blues harmonica players, singers, and songwriters of the 20th Century. Although his birth name was Aleck Ford Miller, he performed under many other names such as Little Boy Blue, Sonny Boy Miller, Rice Miller, Harmonica Blowin' Slim, Willie Miller, Alex Miller and of course, “Sonny Boy” Williamson.” “Sonny Boy” Williamson was adopted after a successful blues harmonica player, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, who played clubs in Chicago, Illinois. To reduce the confusion over the musicians' names, John Lee Williamson was called “Sonny Boy I” or “the Original Sonny Boy,” and Miller was called “Sonny Boy II.” In the earliest years of his career, Miller was often given credit for Williamson's recordings in error. There is also confusion about Miller's birth date with sources showing December 5th in 1897, 1899, or 1912, or March 11, 1909 as his grave marker shows. He was born to Millie Ford on the Sara Jones Plantation in Glendora, Mississippi and later took his stepfather's surname of Miller. With a musical talent from a young age, he taught himself to play the “mouth harp” and soon, as a teenager, played the harmonica on the street corners for money. He would “Hobo” on trains traveling throughout the Southeastern states performing where he could. He played with blues greats such as Robert Lockwood Jr., his cousins Homesick James and Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson. In the late 1930s, he was one of the first to amplify the harmonica. In 1941, he found steady employment at KFFA Radio in Helena Arkansas performing on the program “King Biscuit Time.” Although he claimed he made recordings in the 1930s, the earliest verifiable recordings occurred in 1951 on Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi. Johnny Lee Williamson had died in 1949. Many of his most famous recordings were done for Trumpet Records, including “Eyesight to the Blind,” “Mighty Long Time,” “Nine Below Zero,” and “She Brought Life Back to the Dead.” In 1955 he headed to the clubs in Chicago, where he recorded more hits for Checker-Chess, including “Fattenin’ Frogs for Snakes” and “Don’t Start Me Talkin.”In 1963 Miller toured successfully in Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival. While in Europe, he recorded with rock bands the Animals and the Yardbirds. He returned to England in 1964 appearing on stage in bowler hat and two-tone business suit, often carrying an English rolled umbrella. His health was declining and before his death two years later, he performed for the last time on the “King Biscuit Time” radio program. He and Johnny Lee Williamson were inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. His grave was unmarked until 1980 when Trumpet Records places an upright granite marker.
Bio by: Linda Davis
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