Jody Miller, a Grammy Award-winning country singer, died Thursday. She was 80.
Miller, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease seven years ago, died in her hometown of Blanchard, Oklahoma, surrounded by her family. Services are pending.
The "Queen of the House" hitmaker's more than six-decade music career took her on tour with The Beach Boys, to George H.W. Bush's presidential inauguration and to the podium at the 1966 Grammy Awards, where she cracked up comedian Jerry Lewis.
The future country star was born Myrna Joy Miller Nov. 29, 1941, in Phoenix during her transplanted Oklahoma family's trek to Oakland, California.
Miller's family was a musical bunch: Her father, a mechanic, would make and play fiddles, her mother would sing, and she would harmonize along with her four older sisters.
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Miller was just 8 years old when she rode a Greyhound bus from California to her new home in Blanchard after her parents split.
“I couldn't believe what I saw when I got here. They didn't have any paved streets. Everything was dusty,” Miller told The Oklahoman, part of the USA TODAY network, in 2018. “I've been treated so nice. Very friendly people, wonderful people to help you out.”
Miller knew from the time she was 10 that she wanted to be a singer.
“I started out as a folk singer ... and what got me into country music, actually, was that Grammy," she said.
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Miller was crooning in a coffeehouse when folk group The Limeliters came to town, and band member Lou Gottlieb told her he could get her booked in Los Angeles. She said she was more interested in marrying Monty Brooks, but after they wed, the couple went to California.
On her husband's advice, she contacted Western actor Dale Robertson, a fellow Oklahoman known for his roles on the television series "Tales of Wells Fargo" and "Iron Horse." Robertson had ties to Brooks' family, and he helped get Miller an audition with Capitol Records.
“It's a Cinderella story. ... I got in L.A. and I had been married six months. It was in the summer of '62, and by that next year, I had a contract with Capitol,” said Miller, who was married to Brooks for 52 years, until his death in 2014.
With the new, folky stage name of Jody Miller, she was touring Hawaii with The Beach Boys, playing TV shows alongside The Rolling Stones, and had then-session players Glen Campbell and Leon Russell working on her records.
“By the time I cut my first LP with Capitol, folk music was on its way out," she said.
Jody Miller won a Grammy for answer song to Roger Miller hit
In 1965, Capitol tapped Jody Miller to cut “Queen of the House,” an answer song to the Roger Miller tune “King of the Road."
“It was instant airplay. We sold a lot of records," she said. "They actually couldn't make ‘em fast enough to sell. So, it was a giant hit for me,"
At the 1966 Grammys, where she was also nominated for best new country artist, Miller won best female country & western vocal performance for “Queen of the House.”
“At the time, it really didn't have much of an effect on me," Miller said. "Maybe it's because the Grammys were only (a few) years old at the time. But nowadays, it means a lot for them to introduce me as ‘Grammy Award winner Jody Miller.' "
When Lewis presented her with her Grammy, Miller said she managed to intentionally crack him up with her acceptance speech.
“I immediately thought of all the people that helped me in my career. So, I said, ‘Well, I just want to thank everybody that knows who they are.' And Jerry Lewis just died out laughing. He goes, ‘Can I use that?' and I said, ‘Yeah, but I don't know what was funny about it,' ” she recalled.
President George H.W. Bush was one of Jody Miller's fans
Miller and her family returned to Oklahoma as her daughter Robin got closer to school age. Although she spent a few years in semi-retirement, Miller never left the music behind. In 1970, she signed as a country artist to Epic Records, and she scored a string of hits and another Grammy nomination for her remake of The Chiffons' “He's So Fine.”
In 1987, she independently released an album of patriotic music, and through it, she learned she had a future U.S. president as a fan.
“The cassette found its way into the hands of the George (H.W.) Bush campaign people,” Miller said. “I got invited to the inauguration. I sang at one of the balls. I got to watch George and Barbara dance.”
Inspired by her Christian faith, Miller recorded her first gospel album in 1993, establishing yet another phase of her career.
“It's the gift that I've been given, to sing,” she said. “I think my Lord deserves recognition for that ... so I love to use that gift.”
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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Jody Miller, Grammy-winning country singer, dies at 80