The center’s collaboration with entrepreneur Austin Gammage carries versatile musician/producer to Notre Dame debut
“An exquisite blend of soul, R&B, gospel, and hip-hop.” — The South Bend Tribune
When hip-hop legends like Oscar winner Questlove & DJ Jazzy Jeff crown you with laurels and you have the opportunity to attend an exclusive jam session with neo-soul icon Erykah Badu, you are an artist of note. When that artist is Micki Miller and lives in your backyard, you put her on stage. That’s what Sean Martin, DeBartolo Performing Art Center associate director of programming and engagement, decided after recent meetings with fellow Notre Dame employee and entrepreneur Austin Gammage. The concert experience titled A Gammage Solutions presents Micki Miller comes to DPAC’s intimate black box venue, the Philbin Studio Theatre, for one performance on Friday, August 12 at 8 p.m. Limited adult tickets are on sale for $25. Amenities include a cash bar and artist merchandise sales with a planned meet-and-greet. This event is open to the public.
Miller said, “It is an ode to R&B, an homage to the soul music that’s impacted me. I’ll blend my takes on those songs with some of my originals.” Think along the lines of the confessional lyrics and melodic grooves of Grammy winners Jazmine Sullivan, India.Arie, and Jill Scott. Then prepare to expect the unexpected because Miller is not one for dusty oldies sets.
Miller and Gammage are well-known in the local arts scene, having joined forces on other artful R&B, soul, and jazz-inflected events around the city. Their paths converged with Martin’s around a shared idea to connect South Bend’s Black community with Notre Dame’s as Martin completed programming for the 2022–2023 Presenting Series, which includes seven events led by Black artists or having a diverse cast. Committed to reflecting South Bend’s community in its audiences and wanting to welcome those following local artists, Martin saw his opportunity to test an idea formed during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Highlighting a homegrown, established artist like Micki Miller by having her and her band lead off a new line of programming the center is exploring is exciting. It’s an idea based on what I think the center does best — support artists so they can achieve their best work,” said Martin. “The hope is this new direction also begins closing gaps we have through a sustained focus on diversity and equity.”
Gammage and Miller are eager to link South Bend’s Black arts supporters with the Notre Dame community. Both have University and family ties that made August’s project a natural. Gammage is a director of regional development at Notre Dame, where his father, Judge Andre Gammage, is a Law School adjunct professor. Miller’s sister, Karrah Herring, was the University’s director of public affairs and director of the Office of Institutional Equity before Governor Eric Holcomb named her Indiana’s first Chief Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity Officer. Miller also calls Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Niele Ivey and associate head coach Carol Owens friends.
“It’s important that we bring all these groups together. Those that follow my work in the arts, Micki’s supporters including her large church following, and Notre Dame’s staff, especially diverse staff,” Gammage said. “DPAC is the place for that to happen.”
For independent artists like Miller, who “doesn’t have a machine” behind her, the pandemic was a deep well of challenges. Her growing omnipresence in 2019’s national and international music scenes halted. Her childhood sweetheart, husband Martel “Marty” Nicholson, succumbed to multiple sclerosis days before Christmas 2020. Miller and her three daughters remain surrounded by the Faith Alive Ministries family, a church founded as Faith Apostolic by her parents Bishop Eddie L. and Pastor Diana Miller. Still, her music, the creative space she built in her studio, and the band were always there.
Now, she said, is a time of coming back into the light, and she has designs on the future of Black creators in South Bend. “I want to ultimately replicate the DJ Jazzy Jeff PlayList Retreat locally,” Miller said of her 2017 invitation to the exclusive artist formation and creative collaboration event. During this June’s Black Music Month, PlayList added Miller’s hit “I Know” to “A playlist from PlayList” social media post, furthering her connection to a top-tier creative community. Miller said, “I’ve been making inspirational soul music with my band, all from South Bend, for years. We’ve just been blessed to have our music land in the right hands and ears, leading to opportunities we only could have dreamed of. I’m extremely grateful.”