Flournoy Miller (1889-1971) was an actor, comedian, playwright, lyricist and producer. Collection contains personal papers that include biographical information and correspondence; professional papers, including contracts, memberships, writings and production files.
Biographical/historical: Flournoy Miller, actor, comedian, playwright, lyricist and producer was born in Columbia, Tennessee. He began his entertainment career while attending Fisk University where he met and began collaborating with his soon to be long time partner, Aubrey Lyles. During their time at Fisk, they formed a comedy act which produced amateur shows that ultimately helped to fund a science building on campus. Miller was not the only member of his family to pursue a career in the entertainment business. His brothers Irvin and Quintard, also spent their lives in the entertainment business as playwrights and comedians. His wife Bessie (1888-1974), whom he met while they were both performing in Charity Girl, was a chorus girl; and their daughter Olivette was a renowned jazz harpist.
In 1906, Miller and Lyles were offered their first professional positions as playwrights for the Pekin Stock Company in Chicago. They were hired by theater owner Robert Motts and remained with the company for four years, until around 1909. The first play they wrote was The Man from 'Bam, followed by The Mayor of Dixie. Some years later portions of this latter play were rewritten and produced as the Broadway sensation Shuffle Along (1921). Another Pekin Stock Company production written by Miller, Lyles and Irvin Miller, in which they also appeared, was The Colored Aristocrats (1909). The play featured two characters, Steven Jenkins (Flournoy Miller) and Sam Peck (Aubrey Lyles) who would later reappear in Shuffle Along. The comedic duo utilized the Jenkins and Peck characters as the core for many of their vaudeville skits. Prior to the staging of The Colored Aristocrats in April 1908, Miller joined with Marion A. Brooks to form the Bijou Stock Company in Montgomery, Alabama, which produced Queen of the Jungle and Ephraham Johnson from Norfolk. After the company closed in May 1908, Miller reunited with Lyles and began touring the vaudeville circuits.
In 1915, Miller and Lyles found success while starring in Darkydom, the first major black musical comedy. That same year they toured the Keith vaudeville circuit increasing their popularity. Their biggest success came in 1921. Miller and Lyles joined with Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle to write and produce Shuffle Along which had a successful three-year run on Broadway. Shuffle Along was the first Broadway musical produced entirely by African Americans. The next year Miller and Lyles produced a three-act drama, The Flat Below, and Miller's production of Going White which premiered at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. Both shows also received great reviews. Following the closing of Shuffle Along in 1924, the team's popularity continued to grow and they produced a variety of Broadway musical comedies which included Runnin' Wild (1924), Backbiters (1925), Honey (1925), Rang Tang (1927) and Keep Shufflin' (1928). After the unsuccessful run of Keep Shufflin', Miller and Lyles broke up ending a twenty-five year partnership. Lyles traveled to Africa and stayed for a year. Upon his return he produced Runnin' De Town, which also closed without success. During this time Miller wrote and appeared in Lew Leslie's Blackbirds (1930). One year later, the team reunited for one last time and produced Sugar Hill in conjunction with James P. Johnson. In 1932, Aubrey Lyles died in New York leaving the entertainment world to suffer a great loss.
After Lyles' death, Miller teamed up with comedian Mantan Moreland and they toured the vaudeville circuits. In 1936 they appeared in the motion picture "Harlem on the Prairie," the first all-black western. During the 1940s and 1950s they were featured in other black cast pictures, and in the 1950s Miller wrote for the television show "Amos and Andy." In the 1930s, Miller and Lyles had appeared on the radio version of "Amos and Andy." Flournoy Miller died in a California hospital in 1971.
Content: The Flournoy Miller Papers, 1928-1971, documents Miller's life as a show writer, producer and entertainer. The collection consists of correspondence, contracts, skit scripts and clippings.