Ginger Miller recalls a duet that lasted a lifetime

By Maggie Gordon

GUILDERLAND — Ginger Miller moves to her own beat — always has.

Her life has been a series of scales, chords, and arpeggios since she taught her first keyboard lesson at the age of 14. In the 45 years since, she has helped countless local musicians and artists not only to discover their talent, but also to share it with the Capital Region.
In January of 1999, Miller opened the Mini Mall theater at the Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, next to Westgate on Central Avenue. She wanted "something to do," she said, and asked Art Hilton, the owner of the building, and the son of her former piano and guitar teacher.
"See what you can do with this place," was Hilton’s reply. In the past six years, she has done quite a few things there. She has brought in a section of the Air Force Band; hosted tributes to Elvis, Janis Joplin, and Tina Turner; featured mystery theater; and staged plays written by local talent.
"The best part of my job is making new talent happy and giving them a chance to perform," Miller said, as she sipped a can of soda through a straw at her kitchen table.

She knows a lot about working with new talent — she began teaching her children how to play piano when they were five months old. Her three sons, including Glenn Miller — named after the composer from the big-band era — have been playing together since they were three, five and seven. Now at 39, 41, and 43, they are three of the five members in the local rock band, Overture.
Miller is a proud mother, with a magnet declaring "I Love You Mom," displayed on her refrigerator. "My sons are pretty well known. They opened for Marshall Tucker," she said.
"People told me, ‘If you make them do it, they’ll hate it later on.’ Well, it’s their whole life," she said. "If you start teaching them when they’re young, by the time they’re three or four, they’ll automatically play. The bottom line is that you’ve got to make them do it."

Miller began teaching her grandniece how to play the piano when she was one. Now, she is two years old, and can sing, and play the piano and drums.
"Working with kids and helping others can be very rewarding for those who succeed," Miller said.
While Miller does teach young people how to play —"Some of the kids I taught, I teach their grandkids now," she said — she also works with adult artists at the Performance Center.

Lifetime love
Miller puts on one big show of her own each year. Last year, it was a four-hour show called Music Around the World, featuring music from seven different countries. "I went to Disney World, and when I was in Epcot I noticed that they didn’t have as good of a show as I had here for 10 dollars," she said.
This year, Miller’s big show is going to be a Christian Blues show, which will be a benefit for Alzheimer’s. "It will be dedicated to my husband," she said. Miller’s husband died earlier this year from the disease. "It’s going to feature the greatest singers in the area."
Miller and her husband, Joe Miller Jr., were married for 47 years. They met as members of their high school band, and were "going together" since they were 16 years old.
After her husband’s death, Miller patented a ring called Ginger’s Widow Ring. "It’s for people who want to stay dedicated to their spouse for the rest of their life," she said.
She has photo albums filled with pictures and autographs from her contemporaries. "They were just as famous as Elvis," she explained. The albums also hold pictures of the band the Twilight Trio, which her husband stayed with for 35 years.
Her husband’s band "played with a lot of big people on the road," she said. Some of the bigger names she mentioned were Louis Ramundo, and Brenda Lee. The Twilight Trio also did a lot of charity shows for cerebral palsy.

Miller’s musical life is preserved between the covers of her photo albums. She was part of 26 bands since her son was born, andthe albums hold them all. While flipping through the pictures and newspaper clippings from old performances, Miller reminisced about some of her more memorable performances.
"I played some shows with a leopard named Tanya," she said. "She didn’t scare me."
Miller was a member of the all-female band, Mesamies, which was made up of seven women. "I was 40; they were in their 20’s," she said.
The band recorded a 45 in 1980, the same year Miller had to leave the band. "I’d probably still be in all of this if it wasn’t for..." Miller said before drifting off. That year, the group broke up due to Miller’s brain tumor.

She went to Tennessee, where the best doctors for the operation were based, she said. The surgery was a success; however, it left her with facial paralysis.

After the surgery, she left the stage and worked in insurance for 17 years, until the idea for her studio took off.
"You name it, I did it."
"I’m into so many things," Miller said. "You name it, I did it." Not only did she play 10 to 15 instruments, and raise three musicians of her own, she is also working on bringing soapbox derbies back to the area.

In 1976, her son, along with her husband and a family friend, Art Hauser Jr.,built a soapbox car from scratch, to race in the annual derby. Her son came in fourth, but the car, sponsored by the Guilderland Elks, received first place for its decoration.

Recently, Miller tried selling the car, decorated like the American flag, on e-Bay. The car didn’t sell, and instead, Miller brought it to a soapbox derby in Glens Falls. The car was displayed during the derby as an antique, with photographs, the trophy it won, and newspaper clippings.
Now, the car is being housed in the Saratoga Auto Museum, a two-year-old museum in the former Bottling Plant. "It’s worth so much more to us to have this car on display in the Saratoga Auto Museum forever, than if we had sold it for $250," Miller said. "Especially because my husband and his best friend just died this year... Their names will be on it in the museum forever."

Now, Miller is trying to bring the derby back to Albany, for next year. However, that is not her only long-term project.
Miller is also planning on opening another theater in a few years. The location she is looking into is a 175,000-square-foot area, also owned by Art Hilton. "It’s right on the river in Rennsselear," she said. "Tour boats will stop there and there will be fireworks at night."
Miller acknowledges that her life has lost some of its luster since her husband’s death. "I just thank God I’ve got all of this to do," she said.

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