Chattanoogan: Bernie Miller – "Blessed with Success”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey

Born in Salisbury, N.C., and raised in Baltimore, Md., Bernie Miller faced the normal challenges that come from being raised in a single-parent home. It was apparent that he was an over-achiever early on. Some would even say he led a charmed life, as things seem to just fall in his lap. But even as a young man, not knowing the Lord as his personal savior, God had his hand on Bernie and was conditioning and fashioning Bernie to be the man of God he is today.

For the character, compassion and integrity that he would need to lead his church, God was building these things in Bernie Miller from the start with a successful career as well as hard times to follow. It took both in his life to know how to be a great leader in his community and any endeavor he is asked to take on.

Bernie’s mother, Margaret Miller, now Margaret Hicks, raised him on her own with the help of her brothers who would step in from time to time. Bernie recalls, "I was like any kid, but tried to stay out of trouble. About age 15, I was walking by the radio station WEBB in Baltimore and there was a newspaper outside of the building where people had moved, but were still getting the paper. I thought I could make a quick buck and picked up the paper to try to sell it to the radio station. They bought it from me and I thought I would do it again the next day.”

The radio station admitted to Bernie that they already got the paper and had only tried to help him out, and they didn't need to buy the paper from him. They did, however, tell him that he could come by the station and help with a program called “Sound Off” which was a program for youth. The man wrote up what Bernie was to say and all he had to do was read it. “As soon as the ‘On Air’ light came on, I froze… it took me 15 minutes to finally get through a 30-second piece. It seemed like it took hours!” Bernie laughs.

Bernie had a voice for radio and the station recognized that. He was asked to be a DJ at age 16 and was being paid. At first he did not tell his mother, so after a while he asked her to turn on the radio at six o’clock and listen to him. She didn’t believe it. She listened and when Bernie got home he asked if she had listened. She said, “Yes, I listened, but I didn’t hear you.” He said, “Mama that was me, I am on the radio. Listen tomorrow and I will say something to you so that you know it’s me.” Bernie gave a shout out to his mother the next evening and said, “My mother doesn’t believe this is me – but it’s me, Mama.” And his mother ended up calling everybody she knew telling them that her son was on the radio.

At age 17 Miller was the youngest program director in the country. “I was managing people that were much older than me but I had a knack for the business,” he said. After Bernie graduated he went to Baltimore Jr. College and then went on to Nebraska as a news director.

He also tried his hand at reporting the news, but he didn’t like it; he wanted to be a DJ. Bernie worked in Memphis where he met Willie Mitchell, who was writing songs for Al Greene and Anne Peoples as well as others. Mitchell was the owner and producer for High Records.

Bernie got to know Mitchell’s daughter and started hanging around the studio. “I wanted to try my hand at writing lyrics. I was playing the piano, writing and playing a melody…the first line I wrote that was recorded was, ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’, that Tina Turner recorded and recently Seal also recorded.” 

Bernie left Texas and went to many other places across the country. “I left Memphis for New Orleans and moved to California, Chicago and Milwaukie and finally to New York.”

Bernie adds, “A friend of mine said, ‘You’d be great in A&R - you have a good ear for music and you have picked a lot of songs that have made people famous.’ One of them was Whitney Houston. I was one of the ones to start her career,” Miller said.

Whenever an artist released a song people in the business would ask Miller’s opinion, he gave them his outlook. “Other program directors would pick it up because everyone valued my opinion. Whitney Houston came to town and she thanked me for helping her with her career and my name got around.” Bernie said.

“I was in NYC working as vice president of Artist and Repertoire for Sony/Epic Records in New York,” (who carried Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross), Bernie says. As a songwriter, he received gold and platinum record awards. He was responsible for over 52 artists.

When Luther Vandross came to Bernie and asked which song should be his title song for his new Album, Bernie replied “Any Love”. Vandross had not picked that song in the beginning, but took Bernie’s advice. The album reached the top position on the R&B Album charts that year for two weeks. At the 1989 Grammy Awards, the album was nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, and its title track was nominated for “Best R&B Song.”

Bernie’s life seemed golden and his success was palpable. Though it seemed he was at the top of his game there were missing pieces in his life.

Bernie had always wondered about his father.

While staying in Pennsylvania, he called information looking for his father, Garfield Krider. The number was unpublished and Bernie explained to the operator that he was searching for his father. The operator had compassion for him, called Mr. Krider and gave him his son’s number so that he could reach him.

Bernie’s father called him. It was a dream come true. “I felt my heart palpitating and my palms sweaty and I felt overwhelmed… I didn’t know what to say - there were so many things I wanted to tell him and ask him.  The words didn’t come out right,” Bernie recalls.

“My father was in Nevada. After I got a job offer in NY, I called him and met my father for the first time. He was a short guy…I expected someone taller,” Bernie laughs. “I also met my half brothers and sisters.”

It was hard for Bernie to build a relationship with his father, “I was a big time executive, I had a company car. I explained to my father, ‘Dad, this is who I am.’ It was hard for us to get close, I think he expected me to do all the reaching out.” 

God had more plans in store for the business mogul. In 1988 while he was watching the 700 Club on television. Bernie says, “I was watching the program and a man said, “There is someone out there in the radio business...and you need Jesus.’ I laughed thinking…‘That is so general,’ Then they said, ‘Pray this prayer with me.’ The next thing I knew I was praying this prayer and I accepted the Lord in my life.  My life changed a lot after that; I didn’t do what I used to do. I stopped being a ‘cut-throat’. You don’t last long in the music business treating people fairly, it is very cut-throat.”

The 700 Club recently featured Dr. Miller last year during their 50-year anniversary. He gave his testimony of the Bernie Miller he used to be and how he came to know Christ.

“In New York, if your guts were on fire - they wouldn’t spit on you. After 911 happened… things changed in NY, it is a softer gentler NY,” he maintains. 

“I was a greeter at Times Square church with founding pastor (and author of “The Cross and the Switchblade”) David Wilkerson. “We rotated every Sunday after church to do devotions. This particular Sunday was my time to do devotions. I got up and had devotion and afterward, someone said that I needed to do it more often and that I kept their attention… they had me doing it twice a month. One day, I had a dream that I was standing in front of a lot of people preaching.” Bernie admits that he is hard-headed and it took a little more before he realized that he was being called to preach.

He moved to Chattanooga seeking a position with a new radio station, RX107. They weren’t ready to go on the air yet and what Bernie had expected to only be a few weeks of being without a job, turned into six months. He sought employment doing whatever he could, which turned out to be a laborer’s job, digging ditches at the construction site “Hamilton Place Mall”. 

“It was a humbling experience after making six figures having limousines and everything at my disposal to now be making minimum wage,” he concedes. 

“When I came to Woodland Park, it was known that they would pray about men who they felt would benefit from the Timothy School.  I thought it would be a place for me to learn the Bible and how to study it and I signed up for the Timothy School. They called me up and said I had been selected. I was sent paperwork and an application and saw something on the form asking ‘When were you called into the ministry?’ I thought, ‘I hadn’t been called into the ministry, how am I to fill this out?’ They told me that everyone they had prayed about felt strongly that they were supposed to be in this particular class and the class is showing people how the church is structured and it’s ideal for someone who is thinking about becoming a pastor. I didn’t know anything about being a pastor. They said continue to pray… I said, ‘Lord, if I am supposed to be a pastor, show me.’ I needed a ‘Balaam’s donkey’, Bernie laughs.

Bernie was finally able to work for the radio station RX107 but ended up being fired for reading the Bible. He was hired at WMBW and was employed there for seven years. He met his wife Madelene when she came by to interview for a position at the station, though it was not easy to get that first date. A friend told him that he would really like this girl and he should try to get to know her. He saw her and thought ‘wow’. Bernie called her and she asked him if he was calling her about the job. He let her know that he was not calling about the job but he would like to take her to dinner. “No,” she told him, “I don’t want to go out to dinner; it was nice meeting you though.”

Bernie was persistent, “I called her again and asked if she wanted to go to the Christmas party- she said ‘No, I am going out of town.’ Then she called me back later and said she just wanted to say, ‘Merry Christmas’, I got all excited and thought I would try asking her out again and she still said no!” He laughs.

Finally Madelene said to him, “Let’s get this over with - we can go to McDonald's or something.” Bernie remembers, “I took her to the Loft and we were right by the fireplace, she loved fireplaces and then she saw me again after that. She told me that she thought, ‘If I saw you one time maybe that would be it, but you kept calling me,’ Bernie quotes his now wife. They have one son,  Zachary.

Dr. Miller continues to tell the moments leading up to his calling to preach.

“I was still trying out churches and sat all the way in the back and a gentleman came to me and asked if I were a minister. I said no and he said, ‘Well you look like one… can you pray? I need you to pray for the offering’.  And then at another church, I was asked by someone if I were an officer in the church – that they needed someone to do devotion.”

Bernie got a feeling God was telling Him something. So he said, “Show me in your word, Lord.”

“I’m reading the Bible in Jeremiah. I read from chapter one,” Bernie recalls, “In your youth I called you from your mother’s womb… before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” He grabs the Bible on the table and flips through and continues reading the passage, “And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.  Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth’. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the Lord. Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. Preach what I want you to preach.”

Bernie called his pastor and told him all these things. The preacher laughed and told Bernie that it was the same scripture that God had given him also.  Bernie felt by all this, it was confirmed that he was called to preach. Dr. Miller became ordained at Woodland Park.

Dr. Miller is a graduate of Covington Theological Seminary where he also received his doctorate of divinity. The first church he pastored was New Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church.  After three and half years, God gave him a vision. He went to a Promise Keeper’s meeting and saw that there were people with many different color shirts and Bernie thought it was as if God were saying to him, “That’s the kind of church I want” all colors; to have a church with different races and denominations… different kinds of people. “A place for every race”.

Dr. Miller had challenges to deal with in order to see this vision through. He was rejected by banks and there were times when he wasn’t sure where the money would come from. A businessman that Bernie felt led to approach was an anonymous donor which was a big part of acquiring the land that Bernie was to purchase for his church, New Covenant Fellowship on N. Moore Road.

Bernie says, “The land was already prepared; sewer lines already in, power lines were already established. …  I didn’t have to do anything. God prepared this land for me.” 

He expresses how God worked in his life regarding some hard feelings that he had towards his father, “One day I was in Nevada and had to preach on father’s day. I was so convicted about the message and asked myself, ‘How can you preach about loving your father when you have this against your own father?’ So, I called him up and I told him that I was sorry that I had hard feelings toward him and I needed to honor him as my father and that I forgave him. We had our time of crying and all that - I was able to go on and preach.”

Last question: What do you want to say to the Bernie Miller that you once were; who is growing up today?

Tears in his eyes, Bernie smiles that Denzel Washington smile of his and quotes something that the former football coach, Vince Lombardi once said, (which was what the apostle Paul had said) ‘I have fought a good fight and I have run the race run in such a way as to win.’ He adds, “You can’t know that you can win until you finish. A winner never quits and a quitter never wins. A lot of people start things and they quit. If I had accepted the rejection of the bank and I quit- we wouldn’t have our church.”

Bernie concludes, “I have seen a lot of people quit on jobs, relationship and church. I never gave up, I refused to quit. Whatever you have as your prize - as your object, don’t let anyone keep you from it. Don’t quit. There is no quit in me.”

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