Manataka® American Indian Council
Honoring Our Wonderful Brother
Indigenous Music Feature
Bill Miller wins third Grammy
By Nathan Falk, Leader Reporter
A Grammy winner Sunday night has roots right here in the Wolf River region, a connection he’s proud to share.
Bill Miller, a Shawano County native, won the Native American Music category for “Spirit Wind North,” an album of flute music that backs the praying and speaking of tribal elders.
“This win is about the people and where I grew up,” Miller said Wednesday. “I carried the Grammy for Wisconsin and my hometown.”
The award was his third Grammy win as a songwriter and musician. He previously won for Best Native American Music Album with “Cedar Dream Songs” in 2004 and “Sacred Ground — A Tribute to Mother Earth” in 2005.
Miller started playing guitar at the age of 9. He realized at around 15 that he had a gift. Along with music, he enjoyed art and painting. He recalled his mother Lenore saying, “Some day God is going to open doors for you.”
Miller, a 1973 graduate of Shawano High School, is a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Indian tribe.
“With so many years of touring, it’s crazy to get nominated and win when I’m in my 50s — I still have a career going, and am flourishing better than in my 20s,” he said. “I’m not chasing any dreams anymore, I’m living the dream.”
In fact, Miller said it was the message from two of his mentors that have had a lasting impression on him — Shawano High School art teacher Milton Schmidt and track coach William Ramlet. During Miller’s high school years, his father was struggling with alcoholism.
“They were strong men who told me to pursue my music and art with tenacity, and be a persevering spirit,” he said. “They will never know how they affected me, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing — they were my mentors who encouraged me.”
Miller’s vision for Spirit Wind North — the first in a series of four recordings honoring the Tribes of North America — is to lift out collective Native American voice through song and prayer, bringing a message of hope and reconciliation to all.
“My roots are deep in Wisconsin, everything I write comes from there — childhood memories, fishing, outdoors, and Shawano High School never escaped me,” he said. “There’s still a special place in my heart, especially when I come home to see my tribe.”
Miller resides in Franklin, Tenn. with his wife Renee of 30 years, but still visits Wisconsin often. He recorded his latest album in La Crosse.
“My traditional flute albums have been recorded there. When I’m in Wisconsin, I feel less pressure, and these are records that are winning Grammys,” he said. “It’s built a great foundation for me and native people — a voice from Wisconsin.”
Although most of Bill’s music is inspired by his heritage — winning multiple Native American Music Awards, including a 2007 Lifetime Achievement honor — he has never let himself be confined to a certain genre. He has co-written songs with Nanci Griffith, Kim Carnes and Michael Martin Murphy, and he has toured with Eddie Vedder, Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens, to name a few.
Miller even received recognition for his win Tuesday night on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show on ABC, with a segment called “Yehya at the Grammys.”
Yehya, an associate of Kimmel’s, stopped several stars on the red carpet following Grammy wins, and he tracked down Miller after calling him Steven Seagal several times.
“His job is to harass anyone that’s famous, and make fools out of them,” Miller said. “He doesn’t ask serious questions, but it was fun.”
Once Miller realized he was being interviewed for the show, Yehya started singing to him.
“I told him to sing with me in my language, so I started singing a powwow tune, and he started singing with me,” he said. “It was crazy, and Lady Gaga walked by right after that.”
Miller’s appearance on the show was among those by other stars including Elvis Costello, Kings of Leon, Akon, Ricky Martin, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Weird Al Yankovic.
The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe is planning a homecoming for Miller later this month. Miller said he’d also like to present a concert for the public as well when he returns.
Miller’s friend Cassie Molkentin, expecting to leave a message for Bill after she found out about his win, talked to him during the awards ceremony.
“I actually got a tweet (yes, Bill is on Twitter) and placed a call to leave my heartfelt congratulations,” she said. “I was expecting voice mail, but Bill actually answered! He’s like, ‘I can’t talk, I’m at the Grammys.’ Anyone who does know him would totally appreciate his sense of humor. Later, he said he always wanted to answer a phone call ‘I can’t talk right now. I’m at the Grammys!’
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