Jody Miller, Singer of ‘Queen of the House’ and More, Dies at 80

Jody Miller, Singer of ‘Queen of the House’ and More, Dies at 80

Jody Miller, a versatile singer with a rich, resonant voice who won a Grammy Award for “Queen of the House,” a homemaker’s reply to a hobo’s refrain, and had her biggest hit with a teenage anthem, “Home of the Brave,” died on Oct. 6 at her home in Blanchard, Okla. She was 80.

Her daughter, Robin Brooks, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Signed by Capitol Records as a folk singer, Ms. Miller released her first album in 1963 and cracked the Billboard Hot 100 the next year with the pop song “He Walks Like a Man.”

Her career took off in 1965 when Capitol, seizing on the popularity of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” had her hastily record “Queen of the House,” which set distaff lyrics by Mary Taylor to Mr. Miller’s melody and finger-snapping rhythm.

Where Mr. Miller (no relation to Ms. Miller, although they both grew up in Oklahoma) sang of “trailers for sale or rent; rooms to let, 50 cents,” Ms. Miller rhapsodized in a similarly carefree fashion about being “up every day at six; bacon and eggs to fix.”

“I’ll get a maid someday,” she sang, “but till then I’m queen of the house.”

The song was a crossover hit, reaching No. 5 on Billboard’s country chart and No. 12 on the Hot 100, and earned Ms. Miller the Grammy Award for best female country and western vocal performance in 1966. (Mr. Miller won five Grammys for “King of the Road” that year.)

That accolade did not prevent some country radio stations from shunning another single she put out in 1965, “Home of the Brave,” an empathetic ode to a boy who is bullied and barred from school because he doesn’t wear his hair “like he wore it before,” has “funny clothes” and is “not like them and they can’t ignore it.”

“Home of the brave, land of the free,” went the chorus of the song, written by the Brill Building stalwarts Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. “Why won’t you let him be what he wants to be?”

Despite the opposition of some radio programmers to its anti-establishment theme, “Home of the Brave” became Ms. Miller’s best-selling U.S. single.

“I loved that song,” she said in a 2020 interview for an Oklahoma State University oral history project. “Unfortunately, it got a bad rap.”

Over time, Ms. Miller landed about 30 singles on the Billboard charts, 27 of them in the country category and several of those in the top five. In the 1970s she worked with the prominent Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, who guided her to another crossover hit with a cover of the Chiffons’ 1963 song “He’s So Fine,” which reached No. 5 on the country chart and No. 53 on the pop chart in 1971.

Ms. Miller made her last major-label album in 1979, then mostly stayed in Oklahoma to raise her daughter and to help her husband, Monty Brooks, with his quarter-horse business. She resurfaced later with an album of patriotic material and then, after becoming a born-again Christian, sang gospel music.

“I like to sing all kinds of songs, so I didn’t fit into a mold,” she told The Tulsa World in 2018.

Myrna Joy Miller, the youngest of five sisters, was born on Nov. 29, 1941, in Phoenix, a stop on her family’s move from Oklahoma to Oakland, Calif., where her father, Johnny Bell Miller, a mechanic, had a job lined up. Her mother, Fay (Harper) Miller, was a homemaker.

The family often played music and sang together. Johnny Miller was a skilled fiddler, and Myrna’s sister Patricia, whom she idolized, taught her to harmonize.

Aware of their daughter’s talent, Myrna’s parents entered her in singing contests, and her father sneaked her into bars, where she would climb atop tables and, she said, “sing my heart out.” She became known as “the little girl with the big voice,” according to Hugh Foley’s book “Oklahoma Music Guide III.”

The Millers eventually divorced, and when Myrna was 8 she was put on a bus to Blanchard, a small town just outside Oklahoma City, to live with her paternal grandmother.

Two songs Ms. Miller heard growing up made her want to become a professional singer. One was Mario Lanza’s version of “La Donna è Mobile” from “Rigoletto.” The other was a No. 1 hit for Debbie Reynolds in 1957.

“The day I knew I would devote my life to singing was the day I first heard Debbie Reynolds sing ‘Tammy,’” Ms. Miller wrote on her website.

After graduating from Blanchard High School in 1959, she got a job as a secretary in Oklahoma City and moved into the Y.W.C.A., where she would practice the folk songs she learned at a local library.

Her hopes of a recording career got a jump-start one night at a coffeehouse where she was the opening act for the singer Mike Settle. The popular folk trio the Limeliters came in to see Mr. Settle, but also caught Ms. Miller’s performance. Impressed, the group’s Lou Gottlieb urged her to move to California if she was serious about a singing career.

She married her high school sweetheart, Mr. Brooks, in January 1962, and together they headed to Los Angeles. After arriving, they contacted the actor Dale Robertson, a fellow Oklahoman and a friend of Mr. Brooks’s family. He helped arrange an audition at Capitol Records, which quickly signed Ms. Miller and suggested that she change her first name.

Her first record, “Wednesday’s Child Is Full of Woe,” was a collection of folk songs on which she was accompanied by session players like Glen Campbell and, she told the Oklahoma publication 405 magazine in 2012, an “unknown teenager” providing some of the backup vocals who later became known as Cher.

The record’s timing was unfortunate.

“By the time I cut my first LP with Capitol, folk music was on its way out,” she said. Thus began her pivot to pop and country and a career that took her to, among other places, Hawaii on a tour with the Beach Boys; television shows like “American Bandstand,” “Hullabaloo” and “Hee Haw”; and a 15-year run as a top draw in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.

Her album of patriotic songs, recorded in 1987, found its way to Vice President George Bush, who invited her to sing at his campaign rallies when he ran for president the next year. When he was elected, she sang at an inaugural ball.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Miller is survived by two sisters, Carol Cooper and Vivian Cole, and two grandchildren. Her husband died in 2014.

Ms. Miller’s final recording, “Wayfaring Stranger,” is to be released next month on what would have been her 81st birthday. A mix of country and gospel songs, it includes a new version of “Queen of the House” and the title song, a 19th-century spiritual that was part of her repertoire when she started out as a folk singer 60 years ago.

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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