The baddest Indian
who never sewed a suit: Tyrone Miller Sr., R.I.P.

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER PORCHE WEST | Tyrone Miller, a charismatic and gifted singer of the traditional songs of the black Indians of New Orleans, was laid to rest on Saturday, November 24 in the cultural heart of the Tremé community. Widely known as, “the baddest Indian who never sewed a suit,” Miller was 61.

While the Mardi Gras Indians, as they are popularly referred, are best known for their elaborate handmade suits, the music of the Indians is also an intrinsic part of their culture, which is more than a century old. So though Miller never sewed or even wore one of the intricate costumes, he was respected across the entire city for his ability to improvise lyrics and his powerful voice.

Loosely affiliated with the White Eagles tribe under Big Chief Jake Millon in his younger days, Miller roamed the Sunday night practices of tribes both uptown and down. In a culture where bravado and sheer force of will are regarded as hallmarks of leadership, Miller never backed down during any of the vocal confrontations that are central to the concept of “playing Indian,” as practiced by the black Indians.

His sly wordplay and enigmatic gesticulating could slay virtually any rival save the most revered Indian elders. Miller relished the role and came to be regarded as a formidable foil but always with a satisfied smile on his face. He wouldn’t bow down, but he also had deep respect for the traditions of the black culture.

Despite the fact that his funeral notice made no mention of his role in the Indian community, hundreds of people turned out for his funeral including Mardi Gras Indian chiefs of his generation and numerous younger Indians. I counted at least ten Indians dressed in full suits including four members of the Young Cheyenne.

So it was fitting that numerous brass band musicians turned out for his funeral as well. The improvised group, which included core members of the New Birth Brass Band including bass drummer Tanio Hingle and snare drummer Kerry “Fat Man” Hunter were in attendance. Also present were trumpeters Derrick “Kabuki” Shezbie and James Andrews, trombonists “Peanut” Andrews and Corey Henry as well several other musicians including snare drummer Derrick Tabb .

The musicians paraded around the block while the service was going on and then paused for the Indian nation to sing the prayer, “Indian Red” as the casket was coming out of the funeral home. Later, the brass band led the way while the Indians chanted, danced, and played tambourines through the heart of the Tremé neighborhood.

On the corner of St. Phillip and N. Robertson streets, both groups joined together and the pallbearers brought the casket out of the hearse. With horns blaring, they raised him up three times overhead as hundreds danced and sang along. It was a right and raucous sendoff for “the baddest Indian who never sewed a suit.”

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