Lisa Dawn Miller: Singer-Songwriter, Producer and Actress
A fresh sparkle in the music industry, Lisa Dawn Miller has been blessed with the voice of an angel and comes from the finest musical lineage. Her extraordinary talents as a singer, songwriter, producer and actor have captured the media’s attention and the public’s eye.
Lisa’s father, legendary songwriter Ron Miller has written some of the biggest hit songs in history recorded by the most successful recording artists around the world. His hit songs include “For Once In My Life,” “Touch Me In The Morning,” “ A Place In the Sun,” “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday,” “Heaven Help Us All,”” “I’ve Never Been to Me,” “Someday at Christmas” and “If I Could.” These songs have sold in the tens of millions and have been recorded by top artists including: Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. “Heaven Help Us All,” the last song ever recorded by Ray Charles, won a Grammy award in 2005 and “For Once In My Life,” one of the most recorded and successful songs in history, recorded by over 280 major label artists, won three Grammy Awards in 2006 for the Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder collaboration and was most recently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009.
(Taken from Lisa Dawn Miller’s Official Website – you can find out more about her by visiting her site)
Jessica Gilbert: Lisa, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do an interview for TSM. I’m so glad our mutual friend Timothy D. Bellavia got us connected as I’m truly honored with the opportunity to have you in the magazine.
Lisa Dawn Miller: Thank you so much Jessica! I am truly honored that you have chosen me for TSM and I am grateful for your time. I LOVE Timothy! He is a talented, creative and pure spirit with a sensitive soul and warm heart. His books We Are All The Same Inside are a significant contribution in helping us to learn about our common humanity while discovering and embracing our differences/uniqueness. So much about who I am as an artist emanates from this same place.
Jessica Gilbert: Firstly, I know that you spent the first part of your life as a successful business executive. With your desire for a strong background and foundation in business, you rebelled against the limelight of the entertainment industry, and earned great success as a stockbroker, financial planner, stock portfolio/wealth management advisor and retirement planning specialist. Then you decided to go back to your first love of music and song. What was it about the limelight of the entertainment industry back then that made you rebel against it? And what inspired you to turn back to music?
Lisa Dawn Miller: I realize now that the music never really left – how could it? It was always right there – inside of me. I think at the time, I was simply fascinated by the stock market. I wanted to do something that most artists had never done. Instinctively, I wanted to learn about something that I knew would serve me my whole life no matter what journey I was on. Working my way around a brokerage firm and climbing the ladder to success within a business environment dominated by men taught me valuable life lessons which, to this day, guide much of who I am and what I do. I also happened to enter the business on the verge of one of the greatest bull markets in American history and landed a huge 401(k) plan early on which became the foundation of my career. I excelled at portfolio management and to this day remain active in investing and following world markets and the economy.
I set my goals high and worked hard to achieve them but through it all, there was always an unfulfilled place inside my heart – like there was always more to do in life. After I became a First Vice President, I remember being in my corner office (that I worked so hard to get) with the floor-to-ceiling glass and beautiful views overlooking all of Los Angeles thinking, “Wow – I made it, I’m here, this is great!” But often I would be there late at night, working, working, working. Sometimes I would look out over the freeways and across the mountains and listen to the quiet in my office. I remember thinking the world is living without me. It’s out there and I’m in here. Through all the success and all the years, I realized it’s time – time to move on and live. Of course, there was only one way to live and breathe – my music. A new journey, a new beginning on a road very familiar to my heart – the road I grew up on. I was very lucky to have had wonderful people in my life really encouraging me and believing so much in my talent like my mother, Aurora Miller; my father, Ron Miller (1932-2007); my friend Howard Richman and the man who would eventually become my husband, Sandy Hackett.
My days and commitment to my career as a stockbroker have served me well throughout my life, even now – producing shows, negotiating deals and working my way through some of the legal issues that have arisen relating to intellectual properties and contractual law. My experiences have made me stronger and I am happy that I get to create and yet, I still have a strong foundation in business to guide me. My tenacity and persistence come from my business experience. My belief system and inspiration emanates from my parents. My mom and dad taught me to believe in believing. My father always believed in a better tomorrow for everyone. He was sensitive to the human spirit and I believe, connected to a higher place. You can hear this in his songs. As I learned about business through my career, I learned about life through my father’s songs. The inspiration to create was always there inside of me – it never left.
Jessica Gilbert: You and your family are so musically talented! So, I imagine much of the inspiration for music came from them. Besides singing and writing songs, do you play any instruments? Who were some of your early music influences?
Lisa Dawn Miller: Thank you Jessica!…and yes! I do play an instrument! I play the piano. I love playing the piano. My greatest musical influence is my father, Ron Miller. He wrote songs like, “For Once In My Life,” “Touch Me In The Morning,” “Heaven Help Us All,” “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday,” “A Place In The Sun,” “I’ve Never Been To Me,” “I’ve Never Been A Woman Before,” “If I Could,” “Someday at Christmas” and many more. My father inspired me not only in his genius but in his philosophy, belief system and sensitive heart. His songs are brilliant and through his songs, his heart endures and thus, his legacy. My mother, Aurora Miller is undoubtedly a huge musical influence in my life. I have tapes of my mother teaching me piano and singing with me when I was two. My mom is a legit soprano with the most beautiful voice in the world. I think that is why my father fell in love with her. She plays classical piano and like my father, she loved musical theater. She and my father wrote many songs and musicals together. They also performed in musicals together. My father’s greatest influence was Oscar Hammerstein. So I grew up listening to music from The King and I, Show Boat, The Sound of Music and other great musicals like the Music Man (which coincidentally, my father-in-law, Buddy Hackett starred in), West Side Story and Carousel. My brother Gary is an amazing composer as is my sister Debbie. There was always music in my house and I believe much of my musicality comes from all those years listening to my family play the piano, sing and write. I also love and play classical piano. I love Debussy, Bach and Chopin but my greatest influence in classical music was Ludwig van Beethoven. I was as much inspired by his music as I was by studying his tragic, yet extraordinary life. I relate to it and see many similarities to my father’s life – the genius, the pain, the loss, the triumph and a connection to a higher place. This is heard in Beethoven’s music, much like it is heard in my father’ songs. I was very fortunate to have travelled to Vienna, Austria to visit the places Beethoven had once lived and wrote.
There were so many more wonderful influences in my life, like the incomparable, wondrous Stevie Wonder. I also loved great artists like Ronnie Laws, Earl Klugh, Eugene Friesen and Keith Jarrett. I love Randy Newman’s film compositions and Ennio Marricone. Of course, one of my all time favorites was the one and only Michael Jackson. His extraordinary talent has inspired so many people around the world. In fact, Michael Jackson’s incredible performance at the Superbowl XXVII inspired the opening for my Rat Pack Show, which currently runs fulltime in Las Vegas and has just launched a major 70-performance-date domestic tour. I love soul music, rhythm and blues, standards, classical and musical theater. My interests and influences are diverse although my inspiration emanates only from my family – my father, my mother, my husband and our children, Oliver and Ashleigh.
Jessica Gilbert: I read that your songwriting style is reminiscent of your father and know that you co-wrote songs with him. What was the very first song you co-wrote with your father? Out of all the songs you co-wrote with him, is there one in particular that stands out as a favorite for you and why?
Lisa Dawn Miller: The first song I ever wrote with my father is called “I’ll Be The Road.” In fact, it’s going to be released for the very first time on my new CD entitled, Wasn’t I A Good Time due out this fall. I can’t wait! It’s a beautiful song! I’d have to say though, my favorite song that I wrote with my father is a song called “You Can Believe Again.” It’s my favorite for many reasons. First, I had always loved the song “Could It Be Magic” written by Adrienne Anderson and Barry Manilow. Many people don’t know this song is based on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28 Number 20. I always wanted to write a song based on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So based on this brilliant composition, I co-wrote the music to what would become “You Can Believe Again” with an amazing composer, music director and friend, Bill Fayne. At this point in my father’s life, he had slowed down quite a bit. His health was failing and yet, his creativity and brilliance was flowing more than ever. I remember it was during my son, Oliver’s birthday party. My father came over to the piano with me and Bill and started writing the lyrics right there. I will always remember that moment. It’s one of the last moments I shared with my father and in that moment he wrote a lyric about hope and inspiration to a piece of music inspired by a genius whose life was similar to his own. The better tomorrow he had hoped for and believed in came shining through all the pain, loss and tragedy, as it always had in those moments of triumph.
Jessica Gilbert: Where do you get the inspiration for your songs? And what’s your process for writing lyrics?
Lisa Dawn Miller: My father always said that writing is a discipline – that moments of inspiration are few and far between and can’t be relied upon consistently. Although, I must say it seems that most of my father’s songs were written during great moments of inspiration. I think if you write everyday, which my father did, you develop the writing skills and technique that come with discipline so that when you do have a moment of inspiration, everything is working to create that extraordinary composition/song. I am inspired by hope – hope for a better tomorrow, like my father was. Hope is found in our children, in peace, in kindness, in overcoming tragedy, in working together, in creating, in compassion. This inspires me as a person and thus, as a writer. Do I want to change the world? Yes! I do! In this, my hope is born.
Much of my process for writing songs, I learned from my father. He actually had a system for writing songs. Many lyricists write the lyrics first and then the composer writes the music around the words. Not my dad. One of his gifts was knowing instinctively what words the music wanted to hear, thus “Touch Me In The Morning” and “If I could, I’d protect you from the sadness in your eyes, give you courage in a world of compromise….” – He always said he could search for the title in his mind for days/weeks but once he had the title, he could write the entire song in minutes. He used to write a line and then put dashes in for the syllables where he knew the rhyme should go and then come back to it to fill in the rhyme once he arranged it in his mind. He was a master of the word and while analytical, he was a sensitive poet and this was reflected in his work. Another thing I learned from studying my father’s work is to connect the thread throughout. There must be a beginning, middle and end. If you can tie the end to the beginning, it’s effective. As an example, he wrote the beginning of one song, “I wish I could have told you, how much I need to hold you – but I chose angry words instead. Now I’ll have to live without you, as I lie and think about you, from the cold and lonely corner of my bed – and count the things I should have said.” There is a middle to tell the rest of the story and at the end he writes “…and I hope that life discovers, there’s two lost and lonely lovers who could still be tied together by the thread – of all the things I should have said.”
Jessica Gilbert: What would you say are the key qualities that makes a song successful?
Lisa Dawn Miller: Again, so much of this, I learned from my father. Merv Griffin once asked him how he tuned into the themes of “today.” My father said he believes there are no “themes.” Instead, he tries to tune into real emotion and the things that people experience. He said that music is timeless and if you can write about genuine emotion, it’s timeless. As an example, “For once in my life, I have someone who needs me, someone I’ve needed so long” is something someone could feel today, forty years ago or forty years from now. I personally believe that what makes a song successful is writing about something that we can all relate to whether rich/poor, black/white, young or old. Music is the universal language we all understand. If you can tune into this and touch people in any generation and create something that will be interpreted and reinterpreted for decades and centuries to come, then you have written a successful song by writing successfully first.
Jessica Gilbert: Tell us about your album Fly Away. Why did you call it this?
Lisa Dawn Miller: My father wrote a song for me and my brothers and sisters called “If I Could.” When I started writing “Fly Away,” it was my answer to “If I Could.” My father wrote, “I watched you grow so I could let you go….” “Fly Away” started off as a song about just that sentiment – my parents letting me go, watching me take flight while taking with me all the wisdom they gave me. But I discovered that in many ways, I didn’t want to be let go. I was afraid as most young people are. Not afraid to fly but afraid to leave. I’d miss my parents and the time in my life as a child where we shared so much together. Somewhere along the way, I couldn’t finish the lyric. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I felt that if I did, I’d really have to fly – fly away from my parents. A few months later, I heard of the terrible and tragic murder of Samantha Runnion, just days before her sixth birthday. I was devastated, as was the entire nation. How could this innocent life be taken from her mother, from all of us in such a terrible way? In order to heal, I had to believe that Samantha (who I had never met) was in a better place somewhere. She didn’t get a chance to “fly away” like most of us do when it’s time to leave the nest. Her life was taken from her, tragically. But in my heart, I knew her soul was out there – in the sun, flying high above us and soaring in the wind. I finished the song – thus, “Somewhere in the wind, time has just begun. Love is never done, if you can fly away. Meet me in the sun, so we can fly away.” I realized that we must all take flight whether by choice, by nature or by force. Either way, while it is sad in some ways, the beauty of flight is a necessary part of evolution. I dedicated “Fly Away” to Samantha and thank her for teaching me about letting go – in order to grow. I think of her often.
Jessica Gilbert: Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show that you produce with your husband sounds wonderful! What is the inspiration behind the creation of the show? What can fans expect from a show? Finally, I know you’ll be touring throughout the United States. What about the possibility of some shows outside the U.S. such as in Canada or the UK? I’d absolutely love to see the show. If you did one in London, I’d fly there from here in Spain to see it! 🙂
Lisa Dawn Miller: My husband, the amazingly talented Sandy Hackett (www.SandyHackett.com), wrote the script years ago. His father was legendary comedian, Buddy Hackett. Members of the Rat Pack were his friends – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop. Sandy grew up with them. In fact, Joey was “Uncle Joey” to Sandy. What better way to honor their legacies than to create a show about them and the times they shared together. Our show is not a “tribute” show but rather, a theatrical production with a strong narrative. We wanted the audience to experience what it would have been like to witness the Rat Pack on stage together while giving a little of the story behind these iconic legends. Coincidentally, they all recorded songs written by my father in their heyday. When we put the show together, we wanted to tell the narrative using original songs. After my father died in 2007, we discovered 400 songs of his that have never been released. We’ve put a few of these songs in the show! The reaction has been amazing! New standards for the Rat Pack! While we have given the audience the songs they are familiar with, they now have new songs – timeless songs that they can’t get enough of! The comedy in the show is another key element. Sandy is brilliant and the foundation from which the comedy emanates. Much like the real Rat Pack, you never know what is going to happen in our show or who is going to stop by.
It’s amazing that you ask about touring internationally. We just met with a group last night that is very interested in bringing our show to the U.K. and throughout Europe. Right now, we are considering a European tour in the fall of 2012 as a possibility. I LOVE Europe and would love my children to be able experience the rich culture, history and beauty of Europe. If we make it there, you will be my first call Jessica! Promise!….and you will have front row seats for sure! I would love to meet you in person! You can learn more about our show at www.SandysRatPack.com and our 2011-2012 domestic tour at www.SandysRatPackOnTour.com.
Jessica Gilbert: Both of your kids Oliver Richman and Ashleigh Hackett are also performers. I know your son sung with Stevie Wonder as well, which must have been a wonderful experience for him. I’m amazed by the talent that runs in your family! Tell us a little bit about what your kids are doing now.
Lisa Dawn Miller: Oh my! My favorite subject! Last year, I produced a video of my nine year old son, Oliver Richman, singing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It went viral online and from there, we did a follow-up video of Oliver singing a remake of my father’s song “One Little Christmas Tree” from Stevie Wonder’s only Christmas album, Someday at Christmas – of which my father wrote most of the songs including the title track. Two weeks later, Stevie Wonder called and asked if Oliver could come and sing “One Little Christmas Tree” at his House Full of Toys benefit at the Nokia Theatre Live L.A. for 7500 people! It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience and I cried as I watched the legendary Stevie Wonder take my child’s hand and introduce him to the world as he talked about my father, the circle of life and his discovery of Oliver. Needless to say, Oliver’s performance was amazing and he got a rousing standing ovation from 7500 people! Stevie Wonder also asked me to sing my father’s song “If I Could” and I have to say, it one of those moments in my life I will cherish forever. Stevie Wonder is a legend, not just because he is one of the most talented human beings on the planet, but his heart and soul are connected to a higher place. I am grateful for a moment in his life that made history in mine – and Oliver’s.
From there, Byron Allen’s company, Entertainment Studios, did a wonderful piece on Oliver for their show, The Young Icons, a nationally syndicated television show about young people changing the world. We just released Oliver’s new video, a remake of Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” and we are so excited about it! Oliver has been approached by several agents wanting to represent him for film, television and stage. We are thrilled and support him in whatever he chooses for himself. He loves singing and performing! Oliver is now preparing for his role as “Young Frank Sinatra” in our Rat Pack show!
Our daughter, Ashleigh Hackett, is also extraordinary! She made her screen debut in Oliver’s video, “One Little Christmas Tree” in her portrayal as the “angel.” I didn’t direct her at all! The emotion you see was her own choice as an actor. You have to check it out! She’s only five years old! I don’t think she can escape what’s in the genes. Just like I couldn’t escape it – not that I really ever wanted to! Ashleigh loves singing, dancing and acting. She’s also quite comedic (must be the Hackett gene) and has such a vibrant personality, not to mention that she is so smart. She will make her singing debut on my new CD for a duet we are recording together entitled “My Doll” written by my mom and dad. Oliver and I will also be singing a surprise duet together for my new CD. I absolutely can’t wait! You can learn more about Oliver at www.OliverRichman.com and about Ashleigh at www.AshleighHackett.com.
Jessica Gilbert: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
Lisa Dawn Miller: Wow! I could write a book about this. I do have the power. We all do. I believe in hope. I believe that you must believe in believing. In order to succeed, you have to focus on the positive no matter what life throws at you. I would love to help and inspire more young people to believe in themselves – to empower themselves by investing in their brains and talent – to awaken their compassion and kindness. Our future is with our children. I would love to show them to have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, to assert themselves – no matter what the price. Fear lives and breathes with the negative. Optimism is contagious. You can have what you want by believing in it and tuning into that higher place and light inside yourself. The answers we seek are in the truth. Sometimes we don’t like the truth, but it is only in the truth that evolution and growth can be found. I would love to help parents understand that so much of what our children will become, rests with them. We can teach our children to hate or teach them to love. We can feed them indecision or fill them up with optimism, courage, strength and hope. If I could be an inspiration to young people, I am fulfilled. I think the answer to “why” is actually found in the question itself.
Jessica Gilbert: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
Lisa Dawn Miller: One of my favorite quotes actually comes from a song. It’s from my father’s lyric to the song we wrote together entitled “You Can Believe Again.” The lyric/quote is “rainbows without colors leave an empty space – we need to find a way – and wisdom without courage leaves an empty space that time will soon betray.” I think this relates somewhat to the previous question. It speaks to our diversity and how we must try as a people to find a way to embrace our differences. The truth will set us free but we must have the courage to seek, discover and acknowledge the truth. This is sometimes a painful road so the knowledge of it and wisdom to understand without the courage to accept it and do something to promote a better tomorrow, perpetuates what needs to be changed. The lyric evolves into “You Can Believe Again” which is the enlightenment that comes with courage.
I have another favorite quote, or rather, favorite set of words that actually come in the form of a “spell” in the brilliantly conceived, well written fictional story, Harry Potter. The spell is “Expecto Patronum!” I love this because it is based on the idea that your “Patronus” (protector) emanates from inside of yourself – the caster’s innermost positive feelings such as joy and hope. A Patronus is conjured as a protector and is a weapon rather than a predator of souls and shields you from the dark “Dementors” Your Patronus is so powerful it can drive the dark forces away if you learn how to respect and channel it. I believe in life, there are many dark forces wanting to penetrate the shields around us. The power to drive the dark forces away rests within the power of you and your ability to tune into the light and channel it forward. There are so many layers and complexities to understand as well as life lessons in J.K. Rowling’s incredible adventures of Harry Potter. Your power is there – in you – and it all emanates from a place of joy and light. Nothing, not even the ugliest of evil can take that away from you. In fact, it is from that place that all of your true power emanates – the positive light inside of you! Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!
Jessica Gilbert: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Lisa Dawn Miller: I would love to see my father, Ron Miller, take his place amongst the greatest writers of all time. Most people know a Porter or Gershwin tune when they hear one. They make the connection between the writer and his work. Most people don’t know all the hits my father wrote. They connect his songs with the artists who recorded them. In my lifetime now, it is my goal to make the world aware of this extraordinary genius – his work and his life. For all his hits, I believe my father’s greatest success is in front of him – now, in his death. For every “For Once In My Life,” there are a hundred songs no one has ever heard – all just as beautiful, in some cases even more – all standards waiting to be born. I plan to release this amazing body of work to share it with the world. Along these lines, I am working on a new CD due out this fall. I have spent a lot of time focusing on the vision for this project which is a compilation of some of my father’s hits but mostly the songs, which until know, have been unreleased. I am so excited!
Before my father passed away, I interviewed him about his life and his songs. I am going to weave his voice throughout the entire CD – his own narration, if you will, about each song before I sing it. There may even be a surprise duet with dad from recordings he made long ago. I am fortunate and grateful to work with the talents of my brilliant partner and co-producer, Mark Matson and genius art director, Jeanne Quinn. I plan to go back to Detroit to record with some of the same musicians my father once worked with back in the glory days of Motown. I want to shed light on what’s going on in Detroit today – it’s impoverished and desperate state – a place that many years ago, so many brilliant talents gathered to make history together. I am grateful for the unwavering love, support and patience of my amazing, loving, devoted husband, the brilliant Sandy Hackett and our extraordinary children, the light in my life – Oliver and Ashleigh. You can learn more about me and my upcoming CD at www.LisaDawnMiller.com.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks so much again for doing this interview, and wish you and your family all the best with everything in the future. Hope to one day catch one of your shows!
Lisa Dawn Miller: Thank YOU Jessica! I appreciate and am grateful for your support! I do hope to meet you and I would love it if you could catch one of our shows someday. I can’t wait for you to hear my new CD and I really want to thank you for this interview. Your questions are the best I’ve been asked. Today gave me some time to reflect and appreciate. I am grateful and thank you for that! xoxo