by Daniel Neely
Theodore Miller was born on August 1, 1922 in the Watson’s Hill area of Manchester, Jamaca, a rural district very close to the St. Elizabeth border. The area he grew up in was full of mento bands. Miller formed his first band in 1940 with two guitar players, his brother Alfred Miller and Allington Rhodes; the group played mainly at parties, booth, and quadrille dances. It expanded in the 1950s and included, among others, Cleveland Salmon on rumba box. In the 1960s, Mr. Miller and his band forged an important association with the Lititz community center, and through it began competing in the Popular & Mento Music competition in the National Festival for the Arts.
In 1967, his Lititz Mento Band placed first in what was their first year of competition. Many competition successes followed–a bronze medal in 1969, silver medals in 1970-72 and gold again in 1973. By the mid-1970s time it had become a Festival fixture and one of Jamaica’s most in-demand mento groups. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was a darling of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission. In recognition for its work in the “Preservation of Ancestral Rhythms” (an effort Miller led), the group received a Bronze Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in 1998.
I interviewed Mr. Miller in 2002 and he took me to my first nine-night (it was in Santa Cruz). The picture above is one I took of him playing that night–it was amazing experience. I consider him one of the most important people I spoke with during my research.
Like Moses Booth (Rod Dennis Mento Band) and Vincent Pryce (Blue Glaze Mento Band), Mr. Miller was from the first generation of mento band leaders to be recognized by the post-independence Jamaican government for their contributions to Jamaican culture. His passing represents a great loss.
“Dance Music and Working Songs From Jamaica” by The Lititz Mento Band.
This CD was released in Germany in 1993 on GEMA. Two video clips featuring Lititz fiddler Theodore Miller can be seen on the Mento Video page.
This amazing CD is available on iTunes. Get it while you still can. As far as we can tell, the Jamaican fiddle tradition is no longer.