Hazel Miller: Look what she can do

From Arvada home, songstress reflects on career that began with a broken down truck

Kathleen Dunlap
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 3/23/20

Back in 1984, Kentucky singer Hazel Miller was looking for a bigger market and a new home for her talents, little realizing that she’d find that midway through her trek. Miller grew up with a …

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Hazel Miller: Look what she can do

From Arvada home, songstress reflects on career that began with a broken down truck

Posted

Back in 1984, Kentucky singer Hazel Miller was looking for a bigger market and a new home for her talents, little realizing that she’d find that midway through her trek.

Miller grew up with a passion for singing and began forming bands in high school, singing anywhere someone would give her a stage. After graduation, Miller took a job at a Louisville newspaper/television/radio station, continuing to sing on the side. While she was working there, her lead guitarist stumbled across a new song, written by a local composer. He brought it to Miller and she recorded it and sent it to the station.

“The song ran after the evening news,” she said. “And it caught fire.”

Suddenly, her dream of being a singer was a reality. Her version of “Look What we can Do” played every night on the radio and TV stations in Louisville, becoming the official song of the city. Miller was in awe.

“It’s a strange thing, sometimes, what people like,” she said.

Still, as more opportunities to sing arose for her out of the song’s popularity, Miller remained cautiously optimistic. Her mother advised her to move on: “You need to get out of here. Don’t stay too long.”

U-Haul to home

Finally realizing she needed to pursue her singing in a bigger place, Miller packed up her small family and headed west to L.A. But on her trek from her Kentucky hometown to Los Angeles in August of 1984, the U-haul truck carrying all her belongings and her young sons broke down at a gas station in Denver.

After multiple attempts to try and fix the truck, Miller knew fate had decided for her. She drank in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and then said simply, “We’re staying.”

While she dealt with the U-Haul company, her brother-in-law called her to warn her off: Gang violence had erupted in the city, so his warning sealed the deal. Denver would be home.

“Honestly, it was a Godsend,” Miller says.

While their first months in the city weren’t easy — having to hole up in apartments near Mile High Stadium until permanent housing could be located — Miller never lost her persistence and joy. She located housing in Park Hill near downtown briefly but just didn’t feel at ease there.

“So, we lived all over—Wheat Ridge, Lakewood, then Arvada. It’s been an adventure,” Miller says.

Her boys soon found their footing in Denver, too. They are both college graduates. One of them works for the State of Colorado.

Up on their feet

With her family settled, her work as a musician snowballed and she began to work with other musicians in the Metro area. She has sung at Red Rocks Parks and Amphitheater more than 16 times as well as multiple other venues across the city in the past 35 years. Her band, The Collective, features other prominent performers, such as Coco Brown and The Lester Moore Band.

This collaborative effort lines up with Miller’s appreciation of good time and joy of singing.

“If everybody is up on their feet and singing and dancing, you’ve done your job right,” Miller said. “If they aren’t, well, you’re screwed.”

She relies on lists when she is preparing for a show, and then checks it. Twice.

“I tend to forget things,” she says, laughing. Once, she arrived at a festival in the mountains without a sound system. Another time, she didn’t pack any leggings for her stage outfit. Recently, in Milwaukee, she almost left the venue without her winter coat.

Her band members rally around her, like faithful, old friends, to provide constant reminders.

“Hazel, do you have your phone - your keys - your car?” Miller takes everything in stride. She knows the reminders stem from love.

While she continues to travel across the country, to Miller, there is no place like home.

“I love my neighborhood,” she said. Miller lives in a 900 square-foot house west of Olde Town, Arvada. “I have fabulous neighbors,” she says. They watch her house when she’s gone and join her at the summertime festivals in Olde Town.

“Plus, the eating choices are wonderful!” Miller said. To her, downtown Denver may be great, but Olde Town, Arvada, has captured her heart.

Miller has a network of friends she regularly goes out with to scout and enjoys new bands. Or she and her girlfriends will head up to the mountains for a weekend at a hot spring. Or sometimes, they’ll just come over to her place.

“Somebody brings tequila, somebody cooks, and we hang,” says Miller. Despite being a well-known, well-sought out artist, she is at ease with herself. “I am good by myself. I’m self-sufficient.”

New stuff

Sometimes she thinks about retiring but then doesn’t know what else she would do. She wants to keep on singing, but she has also taken on a few other projects and is helping a few up-and-coming bands get started. She is mentoring fresh talent and providing feedback on emerging, fresh styles of music. Some of the new stuff seems odd to her, but she keeps an open mind.

“I can’t understand it all, but I appreciate it,” she says. While new artists flood the music industry, Hazel wishes she could see more female vocalists leading their own bands. “I wish some of the ladies would just step out of the shadows,” she says.

When she thinks about the unfortunate break-down of her U-Haul truck, Miller only expresses gratitude. It didn’t mean the end of her story, rather the beginning of a powerful career, a strong family, and a supportive community.

“I can’t even imagine how terrible it would have been in L.A. So glad I didn’t do it. Nothing like Colorado. It’s changed me.”

For more information on Hazel Miller’s upcoming shows, visit: https://www.hazelmiller.biz/

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