BLESSED with a mastery of the blues that astounded many, Benny Miller could have made his name as a musician in his own right had he not chosen to dedicate the greater part of his life beh
ind the scenes. Sadly, even in death he remains an unsung hero.
Born Benjamin Haim Miller in Harare on October 11 1947, the veteran music producer and engineer died peacefully on September 2 after suffering a suspected heart attack. He would have celebrated his 58th birthday last Tuesday.
Although many today might only remember seeing the inscription “produced/engineered by Benny Miller” on old vinyl records as well as on cassettes and CDs, to the old-timers he was a versatile musician whose hit Fever was a phenomenon in the 70s.
Miller’s punk group Klunk will be remembered too as the first white band to tour the black township of Mbare where they played before a full-house at Stoddart Hall during the colonial era.
While ordinary Zimbabweans might have forgotten Miller, many musicians and producers will forever cherish the man who made them what they are today.
“Miller’s death is a great loss to our industry,” veteran musician and producer Isaac Chirwa told Independent Xtra this week. “He was a very nice guy I worked together with, and he’s the one who taught me how to engineer.”
Chirwa said Miller had helped many musicians, producers and engineers realise their dreams, among them renowned keyboardist Keith Farquharson.
“His death came as a surprise to everyone who knew him as he had been in great shape for many years due to his daily routine of exercise and healthy eating,” Farquharson, now based in the UK, said.
“Miller was an extremely gifted musician, sound engineer and record producer who dedicated much time and effort to improving the quality of Zimbabwean music production. Benny was quick to share his time with anyone willing to learn and was a constant source of knowledge and inspiration.”
Soon after Independence, Miller teamed up with partner Jane Bartlett to pioneer Zimbabwe’s first record label, One World Records, which was to give birth to well-known musicians such as Louis Mhlanga, Ilanga and Dickson “Chinx” Chingaira.
A University of Zimbabwe economics graduate, Miller later became a partner in Shed Studios, where some of Zimbabwe’s great musicians, among them Thomas Mapfumo, have recorded.
“Though in Shona we say wafa anaka (you shall not talk ill about the dead), I tell you Bennie was really great,” Cuthbert Chiromo, Mapfumo’s replication manager, said.
“Mapfumo is particular about who he works with, and he always would not work with anyone who was not Benny Miller in the studio unless he had been recommended by the great man himself.”
Chiromo was furious that the media had “ignored” the death of Miller.
“We have people who call themselves entertainment reporters but they ignore the death of such a great musician, engineer and producer,” Chiromo fumed. “All they want is to look for scandals but don’t even want to learn how the music they want so much to criticise comes into being.”
Before he became a producer of repute, Miller had proved his prowess with the guitar when he joined blues band Otis Waygood in the mid-60s. He left the group to work as an accountant in South Africa in the late-70s, but quickly returned to Zimbabwe to form Harare’s first punk band, Klunk.