Mary Arnold Miller
2009 - Women Who Rock
Mary Arnold Miller’s family roots have been firmly planted in Iowa soil for many generations. She was born in Carroll and raised in Audubon along with her sister Jan and brother Clark. From her first performance of “Happy Birthday” at age 7, she always dreamed of becoming an entertainer. Her teachers were less than enthusiastic but Mary never wavered from her interest in music.
Being chosen for the Iowa All-State Choir was her first musical honor. Winning the Bill Riley Talent Show in high school gave her the opportunity to perform on television for the first time. After graduation, she went to visit family in California , where Buddy Ebsen heard her sing. He encouraged her parents to abandon her plans for college in Minnesota and enroll Mary at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. He arranged for her to study voice under Lillian Mann.
Due to encouragement from a friend, she auditioned for the Young Americans singers and she was asked to join them. This commitment would interfere with the Conservatory so she took a year off to pursue touring with the Young Americans.
Mary traveled all over the world and performed with many music legends such as Angela Lansbury, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, and George Burns, who remained a close friend. While singing with the spin-off group “Kids Next Door”, she met Kenny Rogers.
Kenny and three other members of the New Christy Minstrels had just formed a group called the First Edition They were replacing the original female singer and Kenny wanted Mary to try out for the group. She went to the audition and Ken Kragen, the First Edition’s manager, asked her to meet the group on the road the next day. The group all agreed that they wanted her to join them permanently. She had beaten out Karen Carpenter for the job.The First Edition performed all over the world; and had a television show on NBC called “Rollin On The River.”
It was Kenny who introduced Mary to Roger Miller. After eight years with the First Edition, Mary left the group and began performing with Roger. They were married and she continued to perform with him until his death. Aside from her own career, Mary performed vocals on other records. She performed with George Burns on his album and also sang with Glen Campbell on “Southern Nights.” One of the highlights of her career was performing several times with Waylon Jennings. Mary was privileged to perform at the White House for the Nixons with First Edition. She also performed with Roger at the White House for President and Mrs. Gerald Ford.
Mary has served on the United Way Board in Santa Fe, NM . She is currently on the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communications Sciences Board and on the board for the School of Music at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
Mary presides as president of Roger Miller Music and lives in Tennessee with her three children.
Mary Arnold Miller definitely is a “Woman Who Rocked” and takes her rightful place in the IRRMA Hall of Fame for making her mark not only on Iowa ’s music scene but that of the nation and the world.