Keith Miller

INDUCTED: June 29, 2024

Keith Miller’s musical journey isn’t simply a unique Colorado story.

The path of his career, in which he went from professional football player to major opera star, is one of the most unusual for a creative artist anywhere on the planet. The modesty of Miller’s beginnings only makes his tale more remarkable. He’s from Ovid, a speck of a town in northeast Colorado with a population during his youth of just over 200. His parents were farmers, and working alongside them, he grew into the sort of strapping lad made for the gridiron. As a running back on his high school’s six-man team, he averaged nearly thirty yards per carry one season. These numbers sparked interest from coaches at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder, and Miller went on to start for the 1994 Buffaloes squad that included Heisman Trophy winner Rahsaan Salaam, for whom Miller was a key blocker.

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Athletics wasn’t Miller’s only passion.

In his formative years, he’d been fascinated with opera singers such as Placido Domingo, whose 1981 CD with Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee John Denver, Perhaps Love, ignited his love for the form. Another moment of discovery occurred at CU, where he watched a flick that few would connect with classical music: the action favorite Die Hard. “The ‘Ode to Joy’ plays at the end of the movie, and there’s this dark voice,” Miller recalls. “I heard that and thought, ‘What the heck?’

“So I went to the music library and listened to Beethoven’s 9th, La bohéme, a whole bunch of stuff. I was there in my letter jacket and some guy looked at me like, ‘What are you doing here, dude?”

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Despite not taking music lessons, Miller became something of a karaoke opera singer after discovering that he could produce a marvelous bass tone full of depth and beauty. But at first, football remained his focus. Upon leaving CU, Miller spent several years packing a pigskin for pay in Europe and at arenas across the United States.

Still, Miller’s love of opera never ebbed, and before he got a chance to play at the NFL level, an entirely new future presented itself. The reaction he received after being overheard singing at North Dakota State University, where he was training for a tryout with the Denver Broncos, inspired him to audition for a production of Don Giovanni at a Minnesota music festival — and he got the part.

Shortly thereafter, Miller’s raw talent gained him entry to Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Vocal Arts, and upon his graduation, he was invited to join New York’s Metropolitan Opera. His 2006 debut in Madama Butterfly, staged under the auspices of Academy Award-winning director Anthony Minghella, was the start of an incredible run with the Met, where he was a principal artist. He appeared in approximately 350 performances over eighteen years.

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Miller became an in-demand performer

for famed opera companies in Boston, Washington and other locations across the country, and he co-starred with many of the genre’s greats, including Domingo, who kindly autographed that influential CD for Keith’s parents after a 2011 show. Yet Miller always made certain that his home state was regularly on his itinerary. He sang with Opera Colorado and Opera Fort Collins, among others, and for the Crested Butte Music Festival, he served as director for opera and oversaw the event’s opera young artist program for six years. A number of those participants have gone on to attend and perform at some of the country’s top music institutions– accomplishments that he looks upon with understandable pride.

By Michael Roberts

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