Coleman, Elizabeth Onzella Miller (1889–1974)

By: Laurie E. Jasinski

Type: Biography

Published: May 29, 2013

Elizabeth O. Miller Coleman, choir director and vocalist, was born on January 18, 1889, in McBeth, Texas, in Brazoria County. She was the daughter of Manuel and Lucy (Johnson) Miller. After the death of her father, Elizabeth and her sisters went to live with an aunt and uncle in Galveston in 1899. In 1918 she graduated from Meharry Medical College (located in Nashville, Tennessee) as a registered nurse and held her first nursing position later that year in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Afterwards she moved back to Galveston where she did private duty at John Sealy Hospital.

In Galveston she nurtured a growing interest in music and joined the choir at Macedonia Baptist Church. In April 1921 Elizabeth Miller married John W. Coleman, who was a postal carrier and an organist at a nearby church. Beginning in 1928, she studied various aspects of music—ear training, sight singing, notation, piano, church music, and other subjects—at Manet Harrison Fowler’s Mwalimu School in Fort Worth.

In Galveston, Coleman established a voice and music studio in her home. She sang in the R. Nathaniel Dett Choral Club, organized by her husband, and played one of the leading roles in the operetta, The Merry Milkmaids in Galveston in 1934. Coleman herself organized the Onzella Girls Glee Club, named for her middle name, in 1937.

John and Elizabeth Coleman were active in the National Association of Negro Musicians, and she served as chairman of the fourteenth convention of the Texas Association of Negro Musicians (for which her husband later served as president), held in Galveston in 1939. Her involvement with the association also led to her participation in a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where she gave a vocal performance. She was elected to the National Board of Directors of the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1939 and later served as vice president.

In 1935 she became directress of Choir No. 2 at Avenue L. Baptist Church in Galveston, and in this capacity traveled to and performed at the annual gatherings of the National Baptist Convention at various locations throughout the United States until 1956. The choir gave a number of special concerts through the years, including a performance of “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” to Mary McLeod Bethune on May 6, 1948. Sunday evening radio broadcasts of the choir on station KGBC began in 1957.

After the death of her husband on July 11, 1957, Coleman eventually resigned as choir directress in 1960 and moved to Houston to be near relatives. She briefly worked with the choir of Calvary Baptist Church there. She suffered a stroke in 1973. Elizabeth O. Miller Coleman died on June 11, 1974, at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. She was buried in her hometown of McBeth, in the family plot located near Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

 “Commemorative on the Fiftieth Year of the Uniting of Elizabeth O. Miller Coleman, Directress of Choirs Avenue L. Baptist Church (1935–60) and the tenth year of her passing,” program, Avenue L. Baptist Church, Galveston, Texas, September 2, 1984.

  • Music
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Music and Drama
  • Genres (Gospel)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Galveston

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Laurie E. Jasinski, “Coleman, Elizabeth Onzella Miller,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 29, 2013

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: