STOW — In 2021 or 22, when the music world has discovered indie pop singer Shelby Olive Miller and her recordings are climbing the charts at Spotify and Billboard, you’ll want to be telling your friends “I was there” when she launched this next phase of her singing career on Friday, May 31, at Musica in Akron.
Far more than just another wannabe singer, Shelby is the powerful voice of a Millennial generation seeking answers and striving to find its own way in uncertain times. Her vocals are rich in tone and tenor, more so than one might expect of a 23-year-old. Her writing reflects a longing to explore the human condition, and the words in Shelby’s songs tell powerful stories. You’ll want to hit the replay over and over again to better understand the lyrics after listening to “It Can’t Be Me” or “More Thank Ink” or — being released on May 31 — “Goodbye My Friend.”
But let’s not get too far ahead. We can imagine what it will probably be like two or three years from now though, when others first hear about some “overnight sensation” named Shelby becoming known with (possibly) a breakthrough popular country style or Christian music tune.
Overnight? Not quite. Shelby’s been singing music writing music, studying music, and perfecting her voice, her writing, and her stage presence for nearly 15 years.
MODEST BEGINNINGS IN STOW
Shelby Denton was born and raised in Northeast Ohio. Her father Shawn, the worship leader at Stow Presbyterian Church, traces her performance singing roots back to fourth grade. At age 9, Shelby began singing on stage with Stow Munroe Falls’ Woodland Elementary School Choir in Stow and at Stow Presbyterian. She started playing alto saxophone and joined the youth bell choir a year later.
What came next for Shelby was transformational. She was the “trailing sibling” when brother Xavier had been invited to try out for ETC, a community show choir, and its Main Street Singers. “After a little bit of figurative arm-twisting from me, Shelby wound up giving it a try herself, and discovered she could sing well and that she had a natural grace at dancing as well,” Shawn recalls.
Shelby blossomed at ETC under the tutelage of the program’s leader and conductor Cheryl Boigegrain. She landed a major ballad solo, “Defying Gravity,” in the musical Wicked. She continued in the bell choir, played in the school band at Stow Munroe Falls’ Lakeview Elementary, and — with brother Xavier — sang in a new choir named “Resonators” at Stow Presbyterian.
“Cheryl and ETC really gave me my first opportunity to explore singing and performing on stage, and I discovered that I liked it,” Shelby recalls. “It became an important part of middle school life for me.”
Her parents took notice of the budding interest, and provided help. “Music became Shelby’s passion, and she truly began to hone and love it,” Shawn says. “Tammy (mother) and I supported her, attending her shows, buying recordings and trinkets, and sharing her music and upcoming events with others on social media and by word of mouth. I’ve also given her frank and honest feedback from time to time.”
COMING OF AGE
By middle school, Shelby new she wanted to make music part of her life. She continued learning to play more instruments, including the ukulele. “My brother helped me learn, and at that point it was easier to play a four-stringed instrument than a guitar,” she recalls with a smile. “It’s a beautiful, very portable instrument.”
She became a mainstay in middle school plays and musicals, and she made a great friend in her future husband, Jimmy Miller.
By the time she entered Stow Munroe Falls High School, Shelby had left ETC but in its stead she took up speech and debate. She competed in Duo Interpretation, and along with her partner Jimmy advanced to the Ohio Speech and Debate Association’s State Finals tournament three times. Shelby also partnered with her friend Ariel McCleary to form a ukulele duo group Recipe of Life. The two teen girls recorded “The Secret Ingredient” and sang in coffee shops and shows for five years.
At the ripe old of age of 14, Shelby made her first record with Wes McCraw at Creekside Audio Recording in Norton. It’s an arrangement which continues to this day. “Wes gave us high school girls a really good deal,” Shelby recalls with a smile. “He’s the most versatile musician I ever met. I love working with him because he respects my artistic vision, but he also will tell me when he has thoughts and ideas.
“It was in my junior year of high school that I began to take the song writing part (of music) seriously and when I got to college I realized that I love to teach (music),” Shelby adds. “Of course some of those early songs were silly, about being in love with my boyfriend (Jimmy). But by the time I was at Kent State, I knew I wanted a life in music.”
Alongside Shelby at Kent State was best friend-turned-boyfriend Jimmy Miller. Both pursued degrees, Jimmy in journalism and Shelby in music education. She also was a singer with the main vocal jazz ensemble at Kent State (KSU), the Nova Jazz Singers, and a featured vocalists with the KSU Jazz Orchestra from 2015 to 2017.
“Professors Christopher Venesile and Bobby Selvaggio were really critical to my learning more about music and how to teach music,” Shelby says. “I had tremendous opportunities at KSU, including performing in Chicago and meeting visiting musicians who did residencies in our program.”
Both Shelby and Jimmy also continued their interest in speech and debate, becoming assistant coaches for the Stow Munroe Falls program. Jimmy received the applause of several hundred high schoolers when he used the auditorium stage at the high school, just before tournament awards in December 2016, as a platform to get down on one knee and propose to Shelby. She said “yes,” to the approval and applause of the crowd.
STRIVING AND WORKING HARD FOR SUCCESS
Shelby began going on the road while in college, touring for a few summers with Ariel and their “Recipe of Life” duo. They performed in dozens of cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The two remain close friends, but they parted musical ways in 2017. Ariel is currently living and teaching in Spain.
On her own, Shelby has continued writing, singing, touring, and building an audience for her music. She’s performed in Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Toledo, and is a fixture at various restaurants and clubs in the Akron/Canton/Cleveland area.
Following the adage, “You have to spend money to make money,” Shelby has invested many thousands of dollars on her own career. She routinely spends $2,000 or more when she produces her CDs, such as for 2018’s “Make Sound” and even more so far for the “Bad For Me” release. “It’s a leap of faith,” she says. “When you add up hotels, gas and food, and other on the road expenses, that’s about $5,000 a year, spent mainly in the summer (when teachers aren’t working).
After graduating in 2017, Shelby also landed a substitute teaching position in Cuyahoga Falls Schools. She continued to coach speech and debate, to write music, and returned to acting, going on stage to perform the role of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors at the Akron Civic Theatre in August 2018. One of her fellow cast members, Cody Stanley, also is a speech and debate coach at Norton High School.
“Working with Shelby last summer was nothing short of an amazing experience,” Stanley recalls. “I already knew that she was talented going into it, but actually being able to see her vocals and acting develop during rehearsals was very impressive. Shelby is incredibly talented with a beautiful singing voice and natural way of writing lyrics able to resonate with anyone,” he adds. “She’s an exceptional artist and an even better friend.”
Jimmy and Shelby were in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla, coaching and judging for Stow Munroe Falls at the National Speech and Debate Association’s June 2018 National Tournament, when Shelby received an offer to join the faculty at Cuyahoga Falls as a music teacher. “Music is such a vital part of our society, and being able to work with younger children (grades 1 to 5), I’m striving to instill a love of music into them much as my teachers did for me,” she says.
Shelby married Jimmy Miller on July 21, 2018, in front of many people who have been part of their lives for years. Several Stow Monroe Falls speech and debate students were part of the wedding. McCleary sang the unity presentation song, and a friend from KSU’s jazz group, Emily Laycock, sang in the ceremony as well.
GAINING AWARDS AND ACCOLADES, TACKLING “CRAZY TOWN”
Able to devote more time and attention to her craft since college graduation, Shelby’s musical world continues to expand. Her accomplishments include winning the Akron High Arts Festival Grand Prize in 2017 for the song “More Than Ink” and finishing as the runner-up the next year for “Comfortable in Chaos” (she was ineligible for the Grand Prize two years in a row.) Here’s a link to a story about the Festival. https://www.mytownneo.com/news/20171026/2017-high-arts-festival-winner-is-local-resident-and-ksu-student
After their 2018 wedding and before the school year began, Jimmy and Shelby also made their way to the city country singer Jason Aldean calls “Crazy Town,” Nashville, music capital of the U.S. Their initial visit was really more of a scouting trip, learning more about how the industry there works.
“Shelby got to record in a studio for free after playing at the famous Bluebird Café on open mic night,” Jimmy recalls. “The promoter running the event invited her to the recording session. She also met with several other musical friends she’s met over the years who are living or working in Nashville.”
Earlier in 2019, Shelby had two fan-building performance opportunities. She was a featured artist at Black Squirrel Radio’s “Ladypaloolza” concert, and also was a performer at the 4th annual 330 Day Concert at Canton’s Umstattd Hall, home of the Canton Symphony Orchestra. An event presented by 91.3 The Summit, an FM radio station which features Shelby’s music, more than 30 singers and groups performed at 330 Day to over a thousand fans at the concert.
Here’s a story about the Ladypalooza concert.
Ahead for Shelby are concerts in the summer promoting “Bad For Me’ and then, in August, a return visit to Crazy Town for a longer visit there. If you don’t want to drive or fly to Nashville just yet to hear Shelby perform there, you can get tickets for the May 31 concert at Musica here:
Whether it’s at Musica or elsewhere, see Shelby Oliver Miller and her new music soon in 2019. That way, when’s “discovered” in Nashville this August or in the near future, you can brag to your friends that you heard her before she made it big.
SHELBY OLIVE MILLER DISCOGRAPHY
SONG: “It Can’t Be Me” (written in 2016)
SHELBY’S STORY: This song was inspired after the 2016 elections. I felt that no matter what you believe, no matter what side you were on, everyone was pointing fingers; it was nobody’s fault. I felt really inspired about the fact that we all like to place blame on other things, and rarely do we accept blame for the how things have come to be or the way things turned it. It’s a matter of fixing that kind of behavior, that kind of mentality. We’d be a lot happier, the world world be a better place, if we communicated better, and just accepted the other side for the way that it is, whether we agree or not.
SOME LYRICS: Confused just like the rest of us, judgement’s got the best of us…maybe we’re missing something bigger than what we can comprehend.
SONG: “More Than Ink” (written in 2017)
STYLE: Folk (one main instrument, the ukulele)
SHELBY’S STORY: I was inspired to write “More Than Ink” after observing friends of mine attacking one another on Facebook. I remember specifically reading something really mean that somebody I love wrote to someone else, and then seeing them later delete it. I was reminded that words sting. You can’t just take them back once they’re said. I breaks my heart to see us teach each other down. We need to be more mindful and cautious about how we treat others. We can hide behind memes, and think it won’t have a lasting impact. I think it’s important to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
SOME LYRICS: All that I ask is we think before we speak, ‘cause words spoken, they weight more than ink
Of special note: Grand Prize Winner, 2017 Akron High Arts Festival
SONG: “Out of Here” (written 2015)
STYLE: Pop (excellent usage of a growing number of instruments in the song)
SHELBY’S STORY: I wrote this at a time when I had just met a touring artist from Nashville, Tori Harris. I was a sophomore in college studying music education, and had just been diagnosed with vocal cord damage. (She was treated, and has recovered.) I was feeling lost, confused and disappointed. Meeting Tori lit a spark within me. I was so captured by her life as a touring musician and desperately wanted to get away from the mundane, day-to-day grind of college. “Out of Here” is about knowing you aren’t where you’re supposed to be — something we’ve all felt from time to time – -but now quite sure where that “supposed to be” really is.
SOME LYRICS: But I feel so far away, my home is not right here. Somebody help me before I disappear.
SONG: “Goodbye My Friend” (2019)
STYLE: Pop, piano ballad
SHELBY’S STORY: “Goodbye My Friend” is the cornerstone song of a four-EP record titled “Bad For Me,” telling the story of a relationship which has gone south. The central theme is ‘I like you but I’m very cautious because it doesn’t feel right.’ It comes from stories from some of my closet friends. This song focuses on working up the courage to leave a toxic relationship.”
SOME LYRICS: I was bad for you, you were bad for me too.
FOLLOWING AND LISTENING TO SHELBY
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Shelby Olive Miller’s electronic press kit
Coming up next at www.eyeoncleveland.com: A Northeast Ohio National Champion prepares to defend her title.