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Born August 2, 1844 on Grape Lawn Plantation near Burkeville, Virginia. Polk Miller was raised in privileged circumstances on a tobacco growing property staffed by around a hundred enslaved workers. His family had been slaveowners for generations. He served in the Confederate Army for the final 13 months of the Civil War and was present at the Appomattox Surrender. After the war Miller built a successful drugstore business in Richmond, also founding Sergeant’s, the world’s first brand of pet care products. From the early 1890s Miller began to entertain audiences with stories and songs from ante bellum days and earned a reputation as a convincing dialectician and “negro delineator”. In February 1894 Polk Miller caught national attention when Mark Twain called him up onto the stage of Madison Square Garden Concert Hall, New York. About 1901 he started performing with four African Americans, two of whom had belonged to his family. Together Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette became the first mixed race act to tour America and to record. There is evidence that, in parallel, the quartette members flirted with an embryonic civil rights movement. Miller stopped touring with the quartette in 1911 when the threat of violence and the pressures of discrimination had become too much. Thomas Edison sent engineers to Richmond where the band recorded seven songs in November 1909. The resulting cylinders were released early 1910 and sold well in both the North and South. Polk Miller died on October 20, 1913. (Photos: The Valentine)


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