Hazel Miller


Hazel Miller’s arrival in Denver circa 1984 was an accident of fate.

But as the supremely gifted singer’s induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame indicates, her unplanned move to the state was a lucky break for everyone involved.

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A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Miller exhibited her musical gifts from a young age. At sixteen, she served as the opening act for none other than the self-proclaimed Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown, and did likewise for soul icon Al Green in 1971, when she was a senior in high school. But rather than jumping straight into a music career, she married and began raising a family.

The marriage didn’t survive, but her love of music was built to last.

She became a headliner in Louisville, and her success there inspired her to seek greater fame out west. So in 1984, she loaded her two pre-teen kids, a third child under her care and a friend also looking to get out of Kentucky into a U-Haul and headed for Los Angeles.

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Miller never made it to California. The rental vehicle broke down in Colorado.

Coincidentally, keyboardist Dana Marsh, one of Miller’s former bandmates in Louisville, had relocated to Denver, and he’d been trying to convince her to come to the Mile High City for years. She interpreted the automotive mishap as heavenly encouragement to take his advice.

At first, the blessings were slow in coming. But regular appearances at El Chapultepec, Denver’s renowned jazz club, led to her membership in Rich Relations, a group featuring pianist Joe Tripp, another ex-Kentuckian. She joined the group on a Department of Defense tour, and during a stop in South Korea, she jokingly introduced the band as Hazel Miller and the Caucasians — a name so funny that it actually stuck for a while. But in the end, she opted to call her band Hazel Miller and the Collective.

As a frontwoman, Miller refused to be relegated to a single sound. She could deliver R&B, blues, jazz, funk and more with equal facility, and her stylistic eclecticism, along with her ebullient personality and stage presence, made her a favorite in Colorado.

Miller’s connection with fellow Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductees Big Head Todd and the Monsters further broadened her audience. The band members were big fans, and they invited her to add her touch to “Wearing Only Flowers,” a key track on their 1994 album Stratagem. She went on to tour with the group for several years and has contributed to other Big Head Todd and the Monsters albums, including 2004’s Live at the Fillmore and 2010’s Rocksteady.

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The Monsters are hardly the only Colorado Music Hall of Famers with whom Miller has cut tracks. She’s on recordings by The String Cheese Incident, Jock Bartley of Firefall and Chris Daniels & the Kings, and she teamed with Daniels and Marsh on 2021’s What We Did. Albums under her own name include her debut cassette, 1992’s Finally, and 1995’s Live at the Fox, which commemorates a performance at yet another Colorado Music Hall of Fame honoree, Boulder’s Fox Theatre.

Miller is appropriately known for the company she’s kept. She sang at the White House for President Bill Clinton, accompanied Herbie Hancock at a show in Japan, and has shared bills with artists as varied as Bob Weir, James Taylor, Buddy Guy and Mel Tormé. But she retains a special place in the hearts of her biggest fans, who refer to themselves as “Hazel Nuts,” and other lovers of Colorado music.

And it’s all thanks to a faulty U-Haul.

By Michael Roberts

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