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Hazel Miller: "I Am Still Rocking"

When Hazel Miller was in third grade she saw Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Nancy Wilson performing on the Ed Sullivan Show and told her mother, "that’s what I want to do."

"You can have whatever you want," her mother replied, "but you have to work for it." Miller’s mother spoke from experience. She raised seven children on a housekeeper’s salary and lived to see them all graduate from college. With an example like that before her, "There’s no way I could fail," says Miller today.

Today Hazel Miller is one of the most in-demand musicians in Colorado, has toured successfully nationally, and is poised to enter the San Francisco music scene. Her will to succeed and to thrill audiences with her versatile voice—equally at home with hard-edged blues or sultry jazz numbers—is as hard-driving as her band’s beat on Aretha Franklin’s signature "Respect".

Miller began her musical career in her native Louisville, Kentucky, singing in bands from the age of 15. Hampered by musicians’ chauvinistic attitudes about "working for a girl," however, she decided to head for LA with her two sons. "I wanted to see if I could be a big fish in a big pond," she says. Her U-Haul broke down in Denver, and Colorado became home.

After watching his mother work for a year watering plants at Lehrer’s Flowers in Denver, Miller’s six-year-old son asked, "Why’d you come all the way here to work at a flower store?" Knowing he was right, Miller began singing again, often working for as little as $40 a night. She soon realized, however, that she wanted to form her own band. "I wanted to work for myself, and today I’d put my band up against anyone," she says. "Our music can peel paint."

Miller credits Father Sam, a Catholic priest in her elementary school, for giving her faith in her talents early on. "He was a saint," she says. "I grew up in the projects, and he would take us kids to Italian restaurants in the parts of town where we didn’t think we could go. He still whispers to me every now and then."

As for music, "I couldn’t think of anything that made me happier," Miller says. "For a couple of hours you’re up there playing music and you can release all the doubt, all the stuff that holds you down, and fly for awhile."

In the late ‘90s Big Head Todd and the Monsters asked Hazel Miller to sing with them, and for three years they crisscrossed the country on tour. Then Miller met Mel Gibson, currently her manager, who arranged for Miller to sing at a Super Bowl. Her career had taken off.

Miller credits her Aunt Blue Jay as another inspiration. "My Aunt Blue Jay in 1963 traveled to the Vatican—the only black person on the tour. I’m here because people like my mother, and Father Sam, and Aunt Blue Jay told me I could," she says.

On a recent visit to London, Miller performed at a showcase at a restaurant—despite the manager’s doubts—and found out she could stun audiences even abroad. "It made me feel so good to know I could still make people stop eating and listen," she says.

"The greatest present God gave me was the ability to stand and fight," she says. When her youngest son was offered a scholarship to a private Catholic school, Miller insisted on paying the full freight, working Karaoke three nights a week to pay the extra $1,000 per month tuition. "I knew that if I didn’t pay for it, he wouldn’t know how important it was," she says.

Today Miller believes that nothing is closed to her if she continues to hustle. "I’ll continue to show up in places they don’t expect to see me. At 50 years old, I am still rocking."