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Black History Month Spotlight: Ernie Mae Miller

At Waterloo Greenway, we’re committed to honoring the meaningful history of the individuals and diverse communities that helped shape the essence of our extraordinary city and Waller Creek. In honor of Black History Month, we’re taking a look back at local jazz pianist and vocalist Ernie Mae Miller (1927–2010), who had a significant impact on Austin’s jazz scene during the 50’s and 60’s. Her impact is still felt today in the Red River Cultural District.

The descendant of formerly enslaved educators who later became prominent figures in Austin, Ernie Mae Miller graduated from L. C. Anderson High School (named after her grandfather) in 1944. She then went on to attend one of the nation’s leading African American Colleges, Prairie View A&M University, and joined their all-female, Co‐ed Jazz Band as a baritone saxophonist.

When she returned to Austin, Miller became the featured performer at the New Orleans Club where she enjoyed a 15‐year residency and helped usher in the beginning of Red River Street’s reputation as a live music destination. Constructed in the late 1870’s at 1123-1125 Red River Street, the New Orleans Club represents a long history and variety of entertainment‐based venues at what was then considered the western end of East Austin’s 11th Street entertainment district. Ernie Mae Miller recorded two live albums at the venue — both entitled Ernie Mae at the Old New Orleans Club.

In the early 70’s, The New Orleans Club along with the William P. Hardeman House were moved to Symphony Square as a southeastward extension of Waterloo Park. Originally serving as the Austin Symphony Orchestra headquarters and later Serrano’s Restaurant, Symphony Square is now home to Waterloo Greenway. We honor her story in a photo gallery in the New Orleans Club and with stories featured in our online History Timeline.

Photo credits:
Ernie Mae Miller pictured on her album cover (Courtesy of The Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)
Tim Kerr & Michael Corcoran’s mural on the north outside wall of Stubb’s (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
The New Orleans Club at 1125 Red River, 1950 (Courtesy of The Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)