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Kansas Rocking Bird

Like any aspiring singer, Mrs. Elva Miller has had to struggle to be heard. In her case, though, the struggle has been going on for most of her 58 years. When she was a child, people were forever telling her to knock off the singing and please go skip rope or something. But she persevered, joined the high school glee club and the church choir, later studied voice for seven years at Pomona College. Still, whenever she tuned up, people tended to drift out of earshot, and friends politely suggested that maybe please she should take up knitting or something.

Not Elva. She recently recorded an album of pop songs- and look who's laughing now? Everybody who has heard Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits. In the kooky world of pop music, where the bizarre is so commonplace, "Hits" has become one of the hottest and certainly one of the most hilarious albums ever to crash the record market.

Ricochet Effect. The album, which includes her inimitable renditions of such teen standards as "Downtown," has sold more than 250,000 copies in just three weeks, and the network TV shows are clamoring for her services. While Elva may not replace Elvis, her rocking chair rock features a kind of slippin' and slidin' rhythm that is uniquely her own. Her tempos, to put it charitably, are free form; she has an uncanny knack for landing squarely between the beat, producing a new ricochet effect that, if nothing else, defies imitation. Beyond all that, her billowy soprano embraces a song with a vibrato that won't quit, as in "Gonna Be Like That":

We're gonna turn tile jukebox high,
Get some sounds
of the gooooooooooo,
Because we've got rhythm
in ooouuuuuurrrrr

As if that weren't enough, Mrs. Miller also tosses in a few choruses of whistling for a change of pace. The net result is the most titillating new voice since Florence Foster Jenkins.

A plumpish, warmhearted matron, Mrs. Miller was raised in Kansas, now lives alone in a modest bungalow in Claremont, Calif. With the income from her album, she has set up a medical trust fund for her husband, who is confined to a rest home. Her friends, she says happily, are surprised at her success. Just six years ago, when she made her debut recital at the local Baptist church, only six hardy souls turned out to hear her program of sacred songs. The fortunes of Mrs. Miller began to change when she began making recordings at her own expense, "just for the ducks of it." Her accompanist somehow induced a disk jockey to play one of her songs on his program. The reaction was such that Capitol Records signed her up and the Kansas songbird was at last on her way.

No Go-Go. The heady ascent to fame has left Mrs. Miller slightly bemused, and still sweetly oblivious to the fact that she can't sing worth a hoot. "l'm not the best musician in the world," she says modestly. "My musicianship might crumble under someone like Leonard Bernstein." And while she candidly admits that her classically trained voice is not attuned to rock n' roll, she is touched by the interest of her teenage fans. Last week, while trying to decide which of her two concert gowns she will wear for her appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on May 14, she mused: "The kids don't want me in gogo boots and stretch tights. I think they are very much in need of a grandma right now."

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