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MILBURN, AMOS (1927–1980). Amos Milburn, rhythm-and-blues pianist, singer, and bandleader, was born in Houston on April 1, 1927. Milburn, called "the first of the great Texas R&B singers," began developing his talent at an early age. When he was five years old his parents rented a piano for his sister's wedding, and in less than a day young Amos had taught himself to play "Jingle Bells." His parents enrolled him in piano lessons, but Milburn jumped ahead by lingering outside local taverns and juke joints and imitating what he heard. In 1942 he lied about his age to enlist in the United States Navy. He spent just over three years in the Pacific Theater, where he entertained troops with his lively piano tunes.
Upon returning to Houston he put together a band and played in clubs all over the city and the surrounding suburbs. His music so impressed local fan Lola Cullum that she allowed him to practice on her baby grand piano and helped him to record "After Midnight." She then took the record and Milburn to Los Angeles, where she visited Eddie Mesner, president of Aladdin Records, in his hospital room and played the record for him. Mesner signed Milburn immediately.
Milburn began recording for Aladdin on September 12, 1946. In twelve years he recorded about 125 songs, most of them arranged by saxophonist Maxwell Davis. "After Midnight" sold more than 50,000 copies. In 1949 Milburn was Billboard's best-selling R&B artist. Davis, acting as sax soloist and producer, helped Milburn on seven of his greatest hits: "Chicken Shack Boogie," "In the Middle of the Night," "Hold Me Baby," "Bad Bad Whiskey," "Good Good Whiskey," "Vicious Vicious Vodka," "Let's Have a Party," "House Party (Tonight)," "Let Me Go Home, Whiskey," and "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer." These songs and others made it to the Top 10 of Billboard's charts in the early and mid-1950s.
Milburn's rocking, boogie-woogie piano style greatly influenced such younger stars as Fats Domino and Little Richard. Some of Milburn's songs, such as "Let's Rock a While" (1951) and "Rock, Rock, Rock" (1952), anticipated mid-1950s rock-and-roll. Milburn ended his association with Aladdin in 1954. He continued to perform, often with such greats as Charles Brown and Johnny Otis. He toured the country, playing nightclubs in various cities, including Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York City, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Washington. He also recorded for labels such as Ace, King, and Motown. However, he had achieved his greatest success by 1953.
No stranger to alcohol, as his song titles suggest, Milburn was often ill. He suffered two strokes, lost a leg to amputation, and was an invalid for some time before his death in Houston on January 3, 1980. He was buried in Houston National Cemetery. He was honored with induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2010.
Alan B. Govenar, Meeting the Blues (Dallas: Taylor, 1988). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Rick Koster, Texas Music (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998). Amos Milburn (www.amosmilburn.com), accessed April 27, 2010. Robert Santelli, Big Book of the Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1993).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Carlyn Copeland, "Milburn, Amos," accessed February 21, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmi95.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on August 9, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.