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MILLER, TOWNSEND CLARE

 MILLER, TOWNSEND CLARE (1919–1989). Born on June 3, 1919, in Gainesville, Texas, Townsend Miller was a twice-weekly columnist for the Austin American-Statesman from 1972 to 1983. He covered the newly-emerging progressive country music scene in Austin and helped to bring national recognition to the progressive country movement.

As a child Miller became interested in country music through a local radio program on WBAP Fort Worth which featured the Light Crust Doughboys, whose members included Bob Wills and Milton Brown. As a young man Miller attended North Texas State Teachers College at Denton (now University of North Texas), where he earned a B.S. in Journalism. After college he joined the United States Army Air Force and served as a navigator with the Eighth Air Force in World War II. During the 1950s he worked as an editor at Texas Game and Fish magazine.

In 1972 Miller began a new career as a stockbroker for the Merrill Lynch Investment Firm and decided to dedicate his nights to bar hopping around Austin and sampling the local country music talent. He soon began writing columns about the city’s music scene for the Austin American-Statesman. As he chronicled the growing outlaw and progressive country music genres in Austin, Miller became a fixture of those movements himself. A number of Texas musicians including Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, were on familiar terms with the columnist. Bobby Earl Smith of Freda and the Firedogs, a long-haired hippie band that played traditional country music, recalled that Miller often helped find work for bands that did not fit the traditional country music mould by recommending them to club owners.

Miller’s columns were often upbeat and enthusiastic. This led to some criticism of his writing style, although he did not consider himself so much an actual music critic as a journalist, reporting on the growth of an industry he loved. He also was well-known for refraining from direct criticism of bands in his column, preferring instead to provide constructive suggestions to musicians in private. Although his personal preference was for more traditional country music, he was supportive of the new sounds ushered in by progressive and outlaw country artists of the 1970s.

Miller wrote his last music column in April 1983, and April 9, 1983, was declared “Townsend Miller Appreciation Day” by the Austin City Council. He retired from Merrill Lynch in 1984 but remained active in the Texas country music scene after his retirement. Many of the performers would still meet with him before and after events, even though he was no longer part of the press. Tragically, he died during the early morning hours of April 1, 1989, in an accidental car fire. He was buried in Assumption Cemetery in Austin and was survived by his wife Rita and four children. He was honored with a Special Merit Award by the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1989. During his life he helped to foster and promote the growth of an industry that bolsters Austin’s claim to being the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, April 2, 8, 1989. Townsend Miller Collection, 1952-1983, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Bobby Earl Smith, Interview by Amanda Deen, October 10, 2006. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. 

Amanda Deen

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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, Amanda Deen, "Miller, Townsend Clare ," accessed October 16, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmiwc.

Uploaded on June 4, 2015. Modified on August 6, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.