Poozie Miles and the Enduring Echo of Vocal Group Harmony

David Hinckley
4 min readJan 16, 2024

It’s kind of nice, when you’re getting older, to have people remember and care about something you did when you were younger.

That thought came to mind with the death last Monday of an 87-year-old Washington, D.C., man named Ronald “Poozie” Miles.

When Miles was younger, much younger, he sang and sometimes sang lead with a Washington, D.C., rhythm and blues vocal group called the Rainbows.

The Rainbows, 1955.

Most people never heard of the Rainbows, even when their several records were released from 1954 to 1956. They never got much promotion or airplay, which was a shame considering that for rhythm and blues vocal group fans, those records remain sparkling gems.

Their first release, “Mary Lee,” was a bopping rave kicked off by an irresistible rippling piano roll from Donald Watts. Two years later they cut “They Say,” a gorgeous ballad with lines like “Your love for me is plain, my dear / I don’t have to listen to scandal I hear.”

While the Rainbows never cracked the national charts, they made a name in cities like Washington and New York. They helped launch the career of Don Covay and they were joined on stage at times by Billy Stewart and Marvin Gaye (then Gay).

Needless to say, the Rainbows weren’t singing in a style for 2024 ears. For that matter, they weren’t singing in a style for 1964 ears. That doesn’t mean their music suddenly got moldy or irrelevant. It just means that popular taste moved on, as it will always do. The Rainbows, like almost all popular music artists, were left largely with those fans and admirers who knew and loved their music during the brief time their style was in fashion.

When that happens, the artists tend to move on with their lives. They get married, they have families, they get jobs that, unlike singing, support those families. Some artists remember their singing days fondly, as a cool way to have spent part of your youth, while others remember it not so fondly, having seen how unfair and dirty the music business can get. Either way, unless you’re Paul McCartney or Tina Turner, the music you made eventually becomes mostly a memory in the mist.

That makes it a really nice thing for a singer like Poozie Miles when people remember.

From the time he was a teenager in Washington, D.C., Miles was singing, often in a group. He joined the Rainbows in 1953, when he was 17, and they broke up in 1956, a common occurrence for artists who correctly felt their records weren’t getting promoted and they weren’t making any money.

Miles joined the Air Force, serving from 1957 to 1961. When he got out, he formed the first of several reincarnations of the Rainbows, who were popular enough in their native D.C. area to become a viable avocation. They sang into the 21st century, with a show that R&B historian Marv Goldberg reports mixed Rainbows songs with their versions of Motown and R&B hits.

A few dates, though, played to fans whose passion was the 1950s classics. Miles would bring the Rainbows to New Jersey’s United In Group Harmony Association shows and get standing ovations for “Mary Lee” or “They Say.” Not incidentally, he still sang them very well — probably because he never stopped singing, sometimes with a gospel group, the Anita Jones Singers.

He had hung it up by 2007, when he had turned 70. But then, 15 years later, a cool thing happened. In 2022, Massachusetts R&B historian, promoter and maven Todd Baptista asked him to dust off the Rainbows songs one more time, backed by four veteran singers from other groups.

Miles agreed, so on Oct. 16, 2022, he took the stage in New Bedford, Mass., for what turned out to be his last night in the spotlight. He sang five songs, including Rainbows tunes “Mary Lee,” “Shirley,” “They Say” and “Forever” (where Larry Jordan took the lead), plus one of Miles’s personal favorites from the early 1950s, “Your Promise To Be Mine.” He sang it in the style of the original artists, the Drifters, and specifically the great Gerhart Thrasher, who was also a gospel singer.

Baptista reported that Miles’s now-adult children surprised him by coming to see the show. He still had a singing voice and the fans, not surprisingly, gave him a standing ovation.

Also not surprisingly, Miles was among the last of the young men (and women) who created rhythm and blues vocal group harmony, a lovely corner of 20th century popular music, for a few golden years in the 1950s.

Ronald Miles’s last bow, well deserved and satisfying, reminds us that what’s in the mist isn’t necessarily gone.

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David Hinckley

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”