Just as I started to work on this year’s “Merry Christmas Elvis” post, I got the news that Millie Kirkham had passed away at age 91, after suffering a stroke last week. Hopefully, you fans all know her as the back-up singer with the sweet soprano voice that recorded and toured with Elvis for fifteen years.
Most tributes to Millie will feature later-day photos of her like the one above. But it didn’t take much looking to find some younger pictures from the period when she worked with Elvis.
Here she is with the Jordanaires in 1958. I’m not sure why there are five Jordanaires in the photo. Her first recording session with them and Elvis was for the Elvis Christmas Album on September 5-7, 1957.
In this shot, the fifth Jordanaire is gone, replaced by some good-looking guy next to Millie.
Another one with the Jordanaires. Too bad the mic blocked out part of her face, because this is the most attractive photo of her in circulation.
This is my favorite picture of Millie Kirkham during the days when she worked with Elvis. It is from the movie That’s the Way It Is, filmed in 1970. Check out Millie wearing a white mini-skirt at age forty-seven. She, Elvis and the group are walking from the dressing rooms to the stage at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.
Back in 2007, I was a contributing editor to Elvis International magazine. The editor, Darwin Lamm, was promoting two concerts at Elvis Week that year, and he arranged for me to have a backstage pass for both nights. The line-ups for both shows were great: TCB Band, Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, the Jordanaires, Millie Kirkham, and much more.
Sorry for the poor quality of this photo I took during the sound check for another concert back in 2004. Darwin Lamm is second from the right wearing an Elvis T-shirt. Millie is on the left, and behind her to her left are Gordon Stoker and the Jordanaires.
When Darwin told me I would have a backstage pass for the 2007 concerts, I knew I would be rubbing elbows with the performers. I wanted to be able to make conversation with all of them, so I did research and came prepared with stuff to ask them about.
This is me and Millie in a room backstage that everybody seemed to hang out in. (note my pass) I got there early before the performers arrived and made like a fly on the wall for a while before going after everybody’s autographs. A number of people connected with Elvis popped in and out. It was like a big reunion. Ultimately, I got up enough nerve to ask everybody to pose in pictures with me.
I never had any private time with Millie in that gathering room, but she left and walked over to an area where folded tables and chairs were stacked up. So, I wandered into the area and asked if I could join her. She was very friendly, but to my big surprise Millie was a smoker. Here was an eighty-three year old woman whose career was singing, and she smoked. I couldn’t figure that one out, but I didn’t say anything. In fact, she offered me one and I accepted. Luckily I was a former smoker who could handle an occasional cigarette without going back to the habit.
So, Millie and I shared our smokes and chatted. This is where my research paid off. I told her I had recently watched That’s the Way It Is, and noticed the white mini-skirt she had worn. She laughed and said something like, “Oh, I can’t believe I did that. I didn’t have the legs for mini-skirts.” That opened the floodgates of conversation, and we had a delightful chat that lasted long after we snuffed out our cigarettes.
So, that’s my little Millie Kirkham story. I’m glad I have that memory. In this photo, she is with Ray Walker and Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires. Unfortunately, I had to write about my 2007 Elvis Week experience with Gordon after he passed away last year. It’s disturbing every time we lose another person who was part of Elvis’ world.
So, goodbye, Millie. We will miss you. Say hi to Elvis for us.
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