As word spread of the death of Candice Miller Kwiatkowski on Tuesday, the Teton Valley community met the impossible news with shock and grief.
“It is very tough for me to put into words how much I will personally miss Candice,” said Brice Nelson, owner of the Knotty Pine Supper Club in Victor, a venue that gave Candice and her sister Karee Miller Jaeger one of their first platforms for performance. "The Miller Sisters are the most successful musical act that we have. Candice and Karee are the sound and soul of everything Teton Valley is. They are our heartbeat. I will be forever thankful for the years of Open Mic nights and the late night fun and music. Candice Miller was a wonderful musician and a beautiful human being."
Her sister Karee confirmed her death on Jackson Lake early Tuesday morning and Grand Teton National Park issued an official press release to the fact later that day. Candice’s death was by suicide, said Teton County, Wyoming Coroner Brent Blue on Tuesday. An investigation is ongoing.
Karee said Tuesday that she last texted her sister at 2:57 p.m. on Monday. It was a picture of an old boom box and she wrote Candice saying that Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” was playing. Candice wrote back that the picture reminded her of Karee’s college days in St. Cloud, MN. Karee answered by sending her a video of the song.
“And that was the last I heard from her,” said Karee.
Candice was part of the two-sister duo known as The Miller Sisters. Hailing from the small town of Waseca, MN, Candice grew into more than a stage act in the Teton Valley community she called home.
“Candice Miller came to teach music at Teton Valley Community School in the spring of 2016, she met with students preschool through seventh grade. The kids loved anticipating her arrival. She always came with loads of instruments, bright outfits and her wide smile,” said Katie Cisco, a TVCS kindergarten teacher. “Candice’s musical knowledge ran deep from musical family roots, and her mellow and welcoming presence made all children drawn to the world of music and the magical way it made them feel, once she helped them discover they could have a piece of it too. She always offered her time, knowledge and musical equipment where she saw a possible need. She gave a lot. A humble, quiet and big heart."
Pam Walker, the executive director for the Teton Valley Education Foundation, remembered Candice’s commitment to educational pursuits.
“I met Candice Miller for the first time as a volunteer for the Teton Valley Education Foundation’s annual hearing and vision screening at Victor Elementary,” said Walker. “She came in wearing this brightly colored trucker hat, sat down in this tiny children’s chair less than a foot off the ground -- down on the same level as the students -- and talked them through a brief eye exam. She was amazing and so caring.”
Walker said Candice had a vision of raising money for new playground equipment.
“She wanted our students to have more swings, more slides, and better equipment,” said Walker. “We talked about numerous possibilities for fundraisers including having her and her sister Karee play at our fundraiser Ride and Dine. She was very insistent and I told her that once the bond was decided, we would delve into it. Linda Reynaud just told me she donated clothes racks to the middle school upon which to hang choir robes. She was always wanting to help out even though she had an extremely busy professional life. She was such a bright spot for our schools and our valley.”
The youngest of eight children, Candice grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and was always surrounded by music. Her dad played guitar and violin and sang while their mom introduced her to music lessons. The sisters sang in choirs through school and church.
As budding, naturally gifted singers, their talent was soon recognized and people began asking them to play at their weddings and funerals. Realizing her daughters had an event to sing at nearly every week, their mother encouraged them to pursue their musical dream as a career.
The two sisters hightailed it to Nashville and spent several years there before journeying west to San Francisco and Jackson. From Wyoming, their next destination was Reno, NV, and after a year there they headed to Alaska in 2003. By 2004 they returned to the Jackson area. Karee settled in Jackson and Candice in Victor, where she lived with her husband and daughter Mary Jane.
Candice played guitar and banjo and her music was described as “country soul,” with the sound deep and captivating, mixing folk influence with a bit of rock edge.
Besides their Miller Sisters duo, they perform with the five-piece country rock band Bootleg Flyer and the eight-piece rock band Mandatory Air. “We’re kind of a wedding dance band,” Candice said in an interview in 2014 while describing Mandatory Air.
One of Candice’s last performances was at Music on Main in July.
“As soon as they came off the stage we had discussed with them about booking them to come back to headline with Mandatory Air next year,” said Lauren Bennett, the executive director for the Teton Valley Foundation. “They had such a lovely way of connecting with the crowd and it was clear to see how much the community loved both of them.”
The Silver Dollar Bar, Roadhouse Q, Handle Bar and Mangy Moose in Jackson and the Trap Bar, Wildwood Room, Linn Canyon Ranch and Teton Springs Resort on this side of the pass are just some of the places Candice played with her sister. Staying true to their gospel roots, they also led the kid’s choir at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Driggs.
“Candice was a person who loved her faith,” said Jennifer Blaire, a member of the Good Shepherd congregation. “When Candice sang at church she brought the house down. Her voice and her faith were an inspiration to us all. I met Candice through church, and our friendship grew as my daughter’s and I entered into her shining light. Candice was one of the few people whose faith was selfless, authentic, and raw, and she used her music to inspire worship and goodness in our valley and hearts.”
There was a gathering at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Driggs on Tuesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. A service has been planned for this Friday, July 27 at 10 a.m. at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church. All are welcome.
Adam Williamson of the Mental Health Coalition expressed his condolences to Miller’s family and to the community at large. The Mental Health Coalition provides free counseling services with no questions asked, Williamson told the Teton Valley News on Tuesday. Providers are listed at tetonvalleymentalhealth.com.
“We want to support and love and encourage and offer hope to her family and friends, and to connect people with the resources they need,” Williamson said.
Julia Tellman and Hope Strong contributed to this report.