The Story and Music of Polk Miller & the Old South Quartette

This is the privately pressed first edition I personally produced. It's a nine-by-nine inch, 24 page booklet with a comprehensive scholarly essay and a CD of the complete Polk Miller and Old South Quartette recordings inside the back cover.  We pressed 1700 copies and we now have less than 80 remaining.  Due to the cost, it is likely this will never be reprinted so when they are gone, they are gone.

Nominations: 2008 Grammy Award Nomination for Best Historical Record of the Year

Reviews: National Public Radio: All Things Considered, “An Unlikely African-American Music Historian” Listen at: please google that as ebay will not let me post a link.

The first time I heard a Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette cylinder record was 25 years ago and I’m still not quite over it. The 1909 Edison recordings are years ahead of their time and the 1928 QRS/Broadway recordings by the Old South Quartette are outstanding examples of pre-war American black gospel music. After discovering these amazing recordings, I also learned about the lives of Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette from Doug Seroff’s comprehensive article in 78 Quarterly from 1988. Both of these discoveries led me down the path to reissue high quality audio transcriptions of these recordings combined with the written history of Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette. This is an important story as this is one of the earliest examples of African Americans and whites making sound recordings together.

Born in Virginia in August of 1844, Polk Miller lived a remarkable life. While growing up on his father’s plantation, he had great exposure to African American music and culture. In addition to learning how to play banjo and guitar, he was a veteran of the Confederate Army, he owned a successful pharmacy business (for humans and animals), he was a gifted storyteller, writer, and respected entertainer.

The story of Polk Miller and the men of the Old South Quartette is a quintessential example of the American experience. As Mark Twain said, “I think that Polk Miller and his wonderful four, is about the only thing the country can furnish that is originally and utterly American. Possibly it can furnish something more enjoyable, but I must doubt it until I forget that musical earthquake, ‘The Watermelon Party’.”

And yes, Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette were very successful; nevertheless, this story also exposes many of the deep civil rights issues of the time.

The recordings: although the 1909 Edison cylinders are not extremely rare, it took years of searching to find clean examples for transfer. These acoustic cylinders were electrically recorded using a variety of techniques. It is important to note that an effort was made to digitally remove inherent recording noise and defects from the Edison cylinder transfers. I quickly rediscovered the assets and liabilities of this process and struggled with which versions to release. The decision was made to release both the unedited versions and the digitally re-mastered versions on this CD, so the listener can decide which version is preferable.

In January of 1960, Jim Walsh published an article on Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette. At this time, Jim was writing a series of articles featuring “Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists”. He was quick to point out that that Polk Miller was one of the few recording artists that actually served in the Civil War. Jim also noted that on November 13, 1909, Polk Miller “was 65 years of age when his recording career both began and ended”. Polk Miller last performed with the Old South Quartette in 1911 and died on October 20, 1913 at the age of sixty-nine.

And 19 years after Polk Miller’s first and last recording session, the Old South Quartette surfaces again. As Doug Seroff states, “The Old South Quartette may have entertained in or around New York City for the last two decades. There’s no known documentation of their activities until they resurfaced, as if walking from a long sleep, in the QRS recording studio, Long Island City, New York, in the autumn of 1928”. The 1928 QRS/Broadway recordings are extremely rare. For example; only one copy of Broadway 5031 has ever been discovered and it is in excellent condition! We are very thankful that a few good examples of each of the QRS 78’s have also survived.

Polk Miller had a rich life and we are fortunate that much of his history remains to share.

Reissuing historic recordings on CD has always been a challenge for the jewel-case. In an effort to improve the historic recording experience, I have issued this project as a nine-by-nine inch, 24 page booklet with the CD of the complete Polk Miller and Old South Quartette recordings inside the back cover. The CD includes the seven 1909 Edison cylinder records and the seven 1928 QRS/Broadway disc recordings. Regarding the text, African American music scholar, Doug Seroff, has been kind enough to completely rewrite and update his 78 Quarterly publication to reflect the many new discoveries over the last 25 years; the new publication is entitled “The Enigma of Polk Miller”. From many years of research, Doug is able to provide the story of Polk Miller’s transition from running a successful pharmacy to becoming a professional entertainer with African Americans.

I did license some, but not all, of the material in this booklet/CD to Tompkins Square Records for reissue in a digipak, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2009.  This set includes Doug Seroff’s complete essay, many images from the rare Polk Miller Scrapbooks, Edison literature, photographs of the cylinder and 78 records and the raw/unedited transfer of all nine Edison cylinders, all of which are not included on the Tompkins Square release.

Original Un-Edited Versions

1 The Bonnie Blue Flag

2 Oysters And Wine At 2 A.M.

3 What A Time

4 Watermelon Party

5 Rise And Shine

6 The "Old Time" Religion

7 Jerusalem Mournin'

8 Oh What He's Done For Me

9 Watermelon Party (2)

10 Bohunkus and Josephus

11 Oysters And Wine At 2 A.M. (2)

12 Pussy Cat Rag

13 When De Corn Pone's Hot

14 No Hiding Place Down Here

Digitally Remastered Cylinders

15 The Bonnie Blue Flag

16 Oysters And Wine At 2 A.M.

17 What A Time

18 Watermelon Party

19 Rise And Shine

20 The "Old Time" Religion

21 Jerusalem Mournin'

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