Though Emmett Miller is little remembered today, his influence was far-reaching during the dawn of country music. He was born in 1900 in Macon, Georgia, and was performing in minstrel shows as early as 1920. His backup band The Georgia Crackers included noted jazz musicians Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and Eddie Lang. Some of his earliest recordings have been “lost,” but his was the first voice to utilize yodel-style vocals in popular music. He performed in blackface into the early 1960’s, long after it had fallen out of fashion/favor with the public. His influence on early country vocalists is most evident in early Jimmie Rodgers recordings, and Hank Williams’ recording of Lovesick Blues is nearly identical to Emmett Miller’s recording. Most of his recordings and performances open with skits that feature African American stereotypes and voices (such as I Ain’t Got Nobody), making him a polarizing figure in the history of music.
Leon Redbone‘s version of “Big Bad Bill” is very similar to Emmett Miller’s original recording. The same can be said of “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Sweet Mama (Papa’s Getting Mad),” and many others. It seems that Miller is Leon Redbone’s most direct influence, particularly in singing style and song selection.
Much of Emmett Miller’s material from the 1920’s can be found on archive.org if one searches his name.