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About The Artist
Willard Darnell Miller was born near Bland, Virginia, only a few miles from Bluefield, West Virginia. WHIS radio had a strong tradition of live country music programming, dating back to the late 1930's, owned by the influential Shott family who also owned the Bluefield Telegraph and later WHIS-TV. Among those who had worked at WHIS over the years included Lynn Davis and Molly O'Day, Lee and Juanita Moore, Rex and Eleanor Parker, Cecil Surratt, and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers.
As an aspiring country singer, Darnell obtained a position at WHIS in 1953 beginning the same day as Melvin Goins who would become a significant figure in bluegrass circles. Country Song Roundup reported that affiliation with WHIS was via a talent show and he was just 16 years old at the time. When the Shott's added television to their media business, Darnell also worked on their programs, often with Cecil Surratt and Smitty Smith whose musical groups were collectively known as the Swing Kings.
In 1957, he was being featured on two television shows over WHIS-TV. One show was the "RFD Jamboree" and the other was the "Saturday Night Jamboree."
When he was a senior in high school, he would attend classes in the morning, record his taped radio shows in the afternoon, then do personal appearances at night.
But his work on television was not always before the camera. An article about WHIS-TV and radio indicated that while Darnell was "getting up with the chickens" in the morning, he was the one that got Channel 6 on the air just before sunup. In the mornings he was known as a "switcher". In the afternoon, his role was as "director" and when needed, a cameraman or scene setter.
At times, he also appeared on WOAY in Oak Hill (both radio and TV) and WRVA Richmond, home of the Old Dominion Barn Dance.
Darnell's first recordings came out on Don Pierce's Starday label where he had three singles released in 1958 and 1959. His first release was "Cardboard Sweetheart," but the second "Mommie, Will My Doggie Understand," (songs about terminally ill children nearly always had appeal in Appalachia) was the most memorable, and appeared on a mixed artist LP.
Darnell made his first appearance on WSM's Grand Ole Opry in September 1964 while he was with the Challenge label (owned by Gene Autry). Hugh X. Lewis was another artist who made his first appearance on the Opry around the same time. Hugh had just written Stonewall Jackson's hit, "B. J. the D. J." Darnell was promoting his release of "Sold The Farm" during his visit to Nashville and also appeared on the "Bobby Lord Show".
Miller's later recordings, albums, and compact discs have appeared on smaller labels such as Aaron, Challenge. Deneba, Fanfare, Phono, and Salem.
Darnell was signed to the Challenge record label (then owned by Gene Autry) by label president Joe Johnson in mid-1964. His initial release — "Show Me The Door" — got some interest by DJs. Radio station KFOX out of Long Beach, CA named him artist of the day and as a result, played the record every hour on the hour for entire broadcast day. Two stations in Nashville, WENO and WLVN, gave the disk "Pick of the Week" honors.
In early 1969, Cash Box reported that Billy Grammer was producing sessions for Darnell. The masters from those sessions would then be leased for distribution.
In late 1969, Darnell signed with the label owned by Danny Harrison - Deneba. In fact, Danny had just been signed to be a regular on the Jamboree and Darnell was to sign his contract with Deneba on-stage during a Jamboree program. When Darnell went to record a session for the label in Nashville with Harrison, he had the A-team backing him on his recordings. The musicians included Lloyd Green, Hargus (Pig) Robbins, Bob Moore, Buddy Harman and Ray Edenton. Later that year, Billboard told readers that he was under management with Bob Gallion at the time who had just taken over for Mac Wiseman as head of the Wheeling Talent Agency.
In 1972, Darnell signed with the Trans-World Associates, a personal management company with offices in New York and Hollywood. He was to be produced by Joe Deaton.
In the latter part of 1975, National Telepix, Inc. formed the Telepix records company that was to be headed by Jud Phillips and Max King. They had signed Darnell Miller as well as Sweet Magnolia and Jean Bonard.
Darnell was featured as a "Rising Star" in Cash Box in 1988 even though he had already been on the Jamboree for over 20 years at that time. But Joe Henderson thought he was worthy as Darnell had revived his recording career with a tune called "Breakdown Hideaway" on Playback Records, which had edged into the Top 100 chart. Joe felt that Darnell had that "star" category in his pocket for some time and felt that Joe felt that Darnell had reached into that pocket to tell folks that his star was rising again. Joe tells readers that Darnell started at the age of 9 on his musical journey when he started playing his dad's guitar.
A promotional article for a 1971 appearance provides a history of some of his television and radio show appearances. He had appeared on the Ralph Emery Show, the Arthur Smith Show in Charlotte, NC, the Old Dominion Barn Dance show in Richmond, VA, the Mac Wiseman Record Show in Wheeling, Clyde Moody's Virginia Barn Dance in Danville, VA and others.
Darnell Miller began his affiliation with the World's Original Jamboree (later Jamboree USA) in 1966. It continued off and on since that time.
In 2017, Darnell received an award for fifty years with what is now the Wheeling Jamboree (no longer affiliated with WWVA).
At age eighty-three, Darnell continues to be a semi-active country musician.
Credits & Sources