Motown Legend Ron Miller RIP
Miller, who had been battling both emphysema and cancer, died of cardiac arrest shortly after 5 a.m. with his daughters, Angel Stratford and singer/songwriter Lisa Dawn Miller, at his side.
On July 21, Miller was presented with the Heroes and Legends Award for lifetime achievement in songwriting and producing, in his room at Santa Monica Hospital with immediate family members and close friends in attendance. The award was given to him by another famed Motown figure, Janie Bradford, who founded the annual awards ceremony as a scholarship fundraiser to assist youths involved in the arts and with furthering their education.
Since signing onto Motown founder Berry Gordy’s staff as one of the company’s first (and only white) songwriters and record producers in the 60s, Miller’s songs have been recorded by thousands of artists worldwide and have sold in the hundreds of millions. His classic standard, “For Once In My Life,” written with Orlando Murden, is one of the most recorded songs in history with early renditions by Judy Garland, Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra joined in recent years by those of younger performers Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr.; according to All Music Guide, there are over 270 recorded versions.
Earlier this year, Bennett, Buble, Josh Groban, and Carrie Underwood teamed up for the first time ever to perform the song live on the Oprah Winfrey Show for millions of viewers. Bennett and Wonder also won 2007 Grammy Awards for their duet version of “For Once In My Life, “ which appeared on Bennett’s 2006 recording Duets: An American Classic. In 2005, Miller’s inspirational song “Heaven Help Us All,” originally recorded by Wonder, won a posthumous Grammy for Ray Charles, whose duet with Gladys Knight appeared on the multiple Grammy winning Genius Loves Company.
After scoring several multi-platinum hits for Wonder in the 60s with “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday,” “A Place In The Sun” and the holiday perennial “Someday At Christmas,” Miller teamed with composer/producer Michael Masser in 1973 to write “Touch Me In The Morning,” which marked a career turning point for both Masser and singer Diana Ross, who took it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The song became the former Supreme’s longest charting record, staying on the Hot 100 for 20 weeks.
Throughout the 1970’s, Ron wrote the book and lyrics to many musicals including “Daddy Goodness” at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia, PA and “Cherry”, based on William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” which included the beautiful “I’ve Never Been A Woman Before.” Barbra Streisand recorded the song for her classic “The Way We Were” album.
In 1976, Ron wrote and produced “I’ve Never Been To Me” for new artist Charlene; the soul searching song barely charted that year, but six years later, a Florida DJ began playing it; in 1982, Motown re-released the song and it became one of the biggest singles of the year, hitting #1 in 18 countries. Miller followed up this hit with the controversial “Used to Be”, a duet he produced for Charlene and Stevie Wonder. As it was working its way up the charts, the record was banned from the airwaves before it could ever reach #1.
In the early 1980’s, Miller wrote and produced “Can’t We Try” for Teddy Pendergrass and composed what became the songwriter’s own all-time favorite song, the heartfelt “If I Could,” which he wrote for his six children: Lisa, Angel, Mark, Debbie, Julie and Gary. Over the past 25 years, the song has been recorded by Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Michael Bolton, Nancy Wilson, Regina Belle and over 100 others.
Born Ronald Norman Gould in Chicago in 1932, Miller was the oldest and only son of Sue and Harry Gould. Harry died when he and his sisters Jackie and Audrey were very young and their mother, Sue, remarried Joe Miller. A die-hard Chicago Cub fan, Ron Miller wrote his first sad song for his beloved but hapless team. He served in the Marines for several years and was stationed all over the world. After marrying and divorcing young, he found himself back in Chicago in the early 1960’s where he remarried, this time to his childhood sweetheart, Aurora.
Struggling to make ends meet by selling washing machines and taking odd jobs, Ron continued writing songs as he had done throughout his life. While performing at a piano bar, Miller noticed someone tipping $5 for every song. The patron was Berry Gordy, who told Miller about Motown Records and of all the new artists he was signing who could sing his songs. Berry invited Miller to join Motown as one of its first (and only white) songwriters and record producers. The next morning, Miller packed up the family and everything he owned and headed for Detroit and his many dates with musical history.
Miller’s daughter, singer/songwriter Lisa Dawn Miller, is currently developing a musical about her dad and the impact his work has had on the world, tentatively titled For Once In My Life: A New Musical About Old Songs. “His songs have become the fabric of so many people's lives,” she said. “You can hear his words at your daughter's wedding, a friend's graduation, a parent's funeral...They were words that you heard when you danced, laughed and cried. Words you looked for when you didn't know exactly what to say or the right way to say it. We all grow older, but my father’s songs never will. They will be reborn with every generation. I guess it’s best said by my father himself:
Time has to take me
But life will wake me
Whenever people feel the road’s too long
They’ll need some music
And I want to come back as a song