The Frank Sinatra family and the music world is mourning the death of pianist-accompanist Bill Miller. He died July 11 in Montreal General Hospital. Miller was 91.
The nickname of ‘Sun Tan Charlie’ was given him by Frank Sinatra, Sr. as Miller shunned the sunlight and was a noticeably pale counterpart to the always tanned Sinatra on stage. He joined Sinatra’s band in 1951 and was with him 46 years until Sinatra’s final performance in 1995. He was in retirement until 1998 when Frank Sinatra Jr. asked him to join his orchestra and he continued to work and tour with Sinatra Jr. until he suffered a broken hip July 1, during the Frank Sinatra Jr. and Terry Woodson Orchestra engagement at the Casino Montreal in Canada (where they continue to play their engagement).
Miller entered the hospital for hip surgery but suffered a heart attack and was in recovery after heart surgery. His daughter Meredith and Frank Sinatra Jr.’s personal assistant John Pizza were at his side. He is also survived by a grandson, Jesse.
A heartbroken Frank Sinatra Jr. reported the news of Miller’s death to me, knowing I’d seen and heard Miller play with both Sinatras over the years. “He taught us all a lot of music,” said Frank Jr. “And he was the greatest living authority on Frank Sinatra music. I brought him out of retirement six months after my father had died and he never stopped playing for me until now. I first met him when I was seven years old. [Sinatra Jr. is now 62] He was sharp as a tack until the moment he died. When he was being wheeled into the operating room he said, ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ This is a very dark hour for us all. We cried together.”
Nancy Sinatra Jr. echoed the family’s grief. She had known Bill Miller since her teen years. “I can’t remember a time when Bill Miller was not in our lives.” She recalled being accompanied by Miller during her father’s show at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami when she’d just returned from Vietnam. “I sat on the piano bench with him and sang ‘My Buddy.’”
Nancy Jr. is now working on an album with big band soundtracks she found in her library. She’s now restoring them. Jeff Morrison continues as Sinatra Jr.’s regular accompanist in his portion of the show.
Bill Miller will be laid to rest alongside his late wife Aimee and a memorial will be held when the Frank Jr. and the orchestra return from their road tour next month.