Utah Phillips

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Utah Phillips
Utah Phillips 1579a 700 NWilson.jpg
Utah Phillips, 2006
Background information
Birth nameBruce Duncan Phillips
Born(1935-05-15)May 15, 1935
Cleveland, Ohio
DiedMay 23, 2008(2008-05-23) (aged 73)
Nevada City, California
Genres Folk music
Occupation(s)Songwriter, performer, raconteur
Website thelongmemory.com

Bruce Duncan "Utah" Phillips (May 15, 1935 – May 23, 2008) [1] was an American labor organizer, folk singer, storyteller, poet and the "Golden Voice of the Great Southwest". He described the struggles of labor unions and the power of direct action, self-identifying as an anarchist. [2] He often promoted the Industrial Workers of the World in his music, actions, and words.

Direct action action taken by a group intended to reveal an existing problem, highlight an alternative, or demonstrate a possible solution to a social issue

Direct action originated as a political activist term for economical and political acts in which the actors use their power to directly reach certain goals of interest, in contrast to those actions that appeal to others by, for instance, revealing an existing problem, highlighting an alternative, or demonstrating a possible solution.

Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions and the rejection of hierarchies those societies view as unjust. These institutions are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as distinct institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful.

Industrial Workers of the World International labor union

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), members of which are commonly termed "Wobblies", is an international labor union that was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. The union combines general unionism with industrial unionism, as it is a general union whose members are further organized within the industry of their employment. The philosophy and tactics of the IWW are described as "revolutionary industrial unionism", with ties to both socialist and anarchist labor movements.

Contents

Biography

Early years

Phillips was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edwin Deroger Phillips and Frances Kathleen Coates. His father, Edwin Phillips, was a labor organizer, and his parents' activism influenced much of his life's work. Phillips was a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. His parents divorced and his mother remarried. Phillips was adopted by his stepfather, Syd Cohen, at the age of five. Cohen managed the Hippodrome Theater in Cleveland, one of the last vaudeville houses in the city. Cohen moved the family to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he managed the Lyric Theater, another vaudeville house. Phillips attributes his early exposure to vaudeville through his stepfather as being an important influence on his later career. [3]

Cleveland City in Ohio

Cleveland is a major city in the U.S. state of Ohio, and the county seat of Cuyahoga County. The city proper has a population of 385,525, making it the 51st-largest city in the United States, and the second-largest city in Ohio. Greater Cleveland is ranked as the 32nd-largest metropolitan area in the U.S., with 2,055,612 people in 2016. The city anchors the Cleveland–Akron–Canton Combined Statistical Area, which had a population of 3,515,646 in 2010 and is ranked 15th in the United States.

Salt Lake City State capital city in Utah, United States

Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous municipality of the U.S. state of Utah. With an estimated population of 190,884 in 2014, the city is the core of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, which has a population of 1,153,340. Salt Lake City is further situated within a larger metropolis known as the Salt Lake City–Ogden–Provo Combined Statistical Area, a corridor of contiguous urban and suburban development stretched along a 120-mile (190 km) segment of the Wasatch Front, comprising a population of 2,423,912. It is one of only two major urban areas in the Great Basin.

Phillips attended East High School in Salt Lake City, where he was involved in the arts and plays. [4] He served in the United States Army for three years in the 1950s. Witnessing the devastation of post-war Korea greatly influenced his social and political thinking. After discharge from the army, Phillips rode the railroads, and wrote songs. [5]

East High School (Salt Lake City) public high school in the Salt Lake City School District in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.

East High School is a public high school in the Salt Lake City School District in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. It serves grades nine through twelve, and also accepts and cares for mentally and physically disabled kids. East High School was founded in 1913 and currently has an enrolled student body of around 1,900. It is located at 840 South 1300 East in the East Bench neighborhood. The original building was completed in 1913, and the current structure was built in 1997.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Korean War 1950–1953 war between North Korea and South Korea

The Korean War was a war between North Korea and South Korea. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following a series of clashes along the border.

Career

While riding the rails and tramping around the west, Phillips returned to Salt Lake City, where he met Ammon Hennacy from the Catholic Worker Movement. He gave credit to Hennacy for saving him from a life of drifting to one dedicated to using his gifts and talents toward activism and public service. [4] Phillips assisted him in establishing a mission house of hospitality named after the activist Joe Hill. [6] [7] Phillips worked at the Joe Hill House for the next eight years, then ran for the U.S. Senate as a candidate of Utah's Peace and Freedom Party in 1968. He received 2,019 votes (0.5%) in an election won by Republican Wallace F. Bennett. He also ran for president of the United States in 1976 for the Do-Nothing Party. [8]

Ammon Hennacy American Christian radical

Ammon Ashford Hennacy was an American Christian pacifist, anarchist, social activist, member of the Catholic Worker Movement, and Wobbly. He established the Joe Hill House of Hospitality in Salt Lake City, Utah and practiced tax resistance.

Catholic Worker Movement autonomous communities of Catholics and their associates

The Catholic Worker Movement is a collection of autonomous communities of Catholics and their associates founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the United States in 1933. Its aim is to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ". One of its guiding principles is hospitality towards those on the margin of society, based on the principles of communitarianism and personalism. To this end, the movement claims over 240 local Catholic Worker communities providing social services. Each house has a different mission, going about the work of social justice in its own way, suited to its local region.

A house of hospitality or hospitality house is an organization to provide shelter, and often food and clothing, to those who need it. Originally part of the Catholic Worker Movement, houses of hospitality have been run by other organizations, including organizations that are not Catholic or Christian. Founded on principals of Christian anarchism, the houses provide hospitality without charge and without requiring religious practice or attendance at services. A variety known as a hospital hospitality house is for families displaced due to medical issues of a family member, and is often located near a medical centre.

He adopted the name U. Utah Phillips in keeping with the hobo tradition of adopting a moniker that included an initial and the state of origin, and in emulation of country vocalist T. Texas Tyler. [9]

Hobo migratory worker or homeless vagabond

A hobo is a migrant worker or homeless vagrant, especially one who is impoverished. The term originated in the Western—probably Northwestern—United States around 1890. Unlike a "tramp", who works only when forced to, and a "bum", who does not work at all, a "hobo" is a traveling worker.

T. Texas Tyler American musician

David Luke Myrick, known professionally as T. Texas Tyler, was an American country music singer and songwriter primarily known for his 1948 hit, "The Deck of Cards".

Phillips met folk singer Rosalie Sorrels in the early 1950s, and remained a close friend of hers. Sorrels started playing the songs that Phillips wrote, and through her his music began to spread. After leaving Utah in the late 1960s, he went to Saratoga Springs, New York, where he was befriended by the folk community at the Caffè Lena coffee house. He became a staple performer there for a decade, and would return throughout his career.

Rosalie Sorrels was an American folk singer-songwriter. She began her public career as a singer and collector of traditional folksongs in the late 1950s. During the early 1960s she left her husband and began traveling and performing at music festivals and clubs throughout the United States. She and her five children traveled across the country as she worked to support her family and establish herself as a performer. Along the way she made many lifelong friends among the folk and beat scene. Her career of social activism, storytelling, teaching, learning, songwriting, collecting folk songs, performing, and recording spanned six decades.

Saratoga Springs, New York City in New York, United States

Saratoga Springs is a city in Saratoga County, New York, United States. The population was 26,586 at the 2010 census. The name reflects the presence of mineral springs in the area, which has made Saratoga a popular resort destination for over 200 years.

Caffè Lena

Located in Saratoga Springs, New York, Caffè Lena is the oldest continually running coffee house in the United States. Founded in 1960 by Bill and Lena Spencer, it claims to be the oldest folk-oriented Coffee House, in the U.S., featuring acoustic concerts and cultural events showcasing folk music, traditional music, and singer-songwriters of a wide range. Since Lena Spencer's death on October 23, 1989, Caffè Lena has been a not-for-profit organization.

Phillips speaking at Waldheim Cemetery, Forest Park (outside Chicago) in May 1986 during ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket affair. HayMarket100a.jpg
Phillips speaking at Waldheim Cemetery, Forest Park (outside Chicago) in May 1986 during ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket affair.

Phillips was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies). His views of unions and politics were shaped by his parents, especially his mother who was a labor organizer for the CIO. But Phillips was more of a Christian anarchist and a pacifist, so found the modern-day Wobblies to be the perfect fit for him, an iconoclast and artist. In recent years, perhaps no single person did more to spread the Wobbly gospel than Phillips, whose countless concerts were, in effect, organizing meetings for the cause of labor, unions, anarchism, pacifism, and the Wobblies. He was a tremendous interpreter of classic Wobbly tunes including "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum," "The Preacher and the Slave," and "Bread and Roses."

An avid trainhopper, Phillips recorded several albums of music related to the railroads, especially the era of steam locomotives. His 1973 album, Good Though!, is an example, and contains such songs as "Daddy, What's a Train?" and "Queen of the Rails" as well as what may be his most famous composition, "Moose Turd Pie" [10] wherein he tells a tall tale of his work as a gandy dancer repairing track in the Southwestern United States desert.

In 1991 Phillips recorded, in one take, an album of song, poetry and short stories entitled I've Got To Know, inspired by his anger at the first Gulf War. The album includes "Enola Gay," his first composition written about the United States' atomic attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Phillips was a mentor to Kate Wolf. He recorded songs and stories with Rosalie Sorrels on a CD called The Long Memory (1996), originally a college project "Worker's Doxology" for 1992 'cold-drill Magazine' Boise State University. His protégée, Ani DiFranco, recorded two CDs, The Past Didn't Go Anywhere (1996) and Fellow Workers (1999), with him. [11] He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work with DiFranco. His "Green Rolling Hills" was made into a country hit by Emmylou Harris, and "The Goodnight-Loving Trail" became a classic as well, being recorded by Ian Tyson, Tom Waits, and others.

Later years

Though known primarily for his work as a concert performer and labor organizer, Phillips also worked as an archivist, dishwasher, and warehouse-man. [12]

Phillips was a member of various socio-political organizations and groups throughout his life. A strong supporter of labor struggles, he was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (Mine Mill), and the Travelling Musician's Union AFM Local 1000. In solidarity with the poor, he was also an honorary member of Dignity Village, a homeless community. A pacifist, he was a member of Veterans for Peace and the Peace Center of Nevada County. [12]

In his personal life, Phillips enjoyed varied hobbies and interests. These included Egyptology; amateur chemistry; linguistics; history (Asian, African, Mormon and world); futhark; debate; and poetry. He also enjoyed culinary hobbies, such as pickling, cooking and gardening. [12]

He married Joanna Robinson on July 31, 1989, in Nevada City. [12]

Acetate stencil commemorating the life and death of Utah Phillips (1935-2008) Utah Phillips death note.png
Acetate stencil commemorating the life and death of Utah Phillips (1935–2008)

Phillips became an elder statesman for the folk music community, and a keeper of stories and songs that might otherwise have passed into obscurity. He was also a member of the great Traveling Nation, the community of hobos and railroad bums that populates the Midwest United States along the rail lines, and was an important keeper of their history and culture. He also became an honorary member of numerous folk societies in the U.S.A. and Canada. [12]

When Kate Wolf grew ill and was forced to cancel concerts, she asked Phillips to fill in. Suffering from an ailment which makes it more difficult to play guitar, Phillips hesitated, citing his declining guitar ability. "Nobody ever came just to hear you play," she said. Phillips told this story as a way of explaining how his style over the years became increasingly based on storytelling instead of just songs. He was a gifted storyteller and monologist, and his concerts generally had an even mix of spoken word and sung content. He attributed much of his success to his personality. "It is better to be likeable than talented," he often said, self-deprecatingly.

Until it lost its funding, Phillips hosted his own weekly radio show, Loafer's Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind, originating on KVMR and nationally syndicated.

Phillips lived in Nevada City, California, for 21 years where he worked on the start-up of the Hospitality House, a homeless shelter, [13] and the Peace and Justice Center. "It's my town. Nevada City is a primary seed-bed for community organizing." [5]

In August 2007, Phillips announced that he would undergo catheter ablation to address his heart problems. [14] Later that autumn, Phillips announced that due to health problems he could no longer tour. [15] By January 2008, he decided against a heart transplant. [5]

Phillips died May 23, 2008 in Nevada City, California, from complications of heart disease, at the age of 73, [1] and is buried in Forest View Cemetery in Nevada City. [5]

Personal papers

Archival materials related to Phillips' personal and professional life are open for research at the Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit, Michigan. The papers include correspondence, interviews, writings, notes, contracts, flyers, publications, articles, clippings, photographs, audiovisual recordings, and other materials. [16]

Discography

Solo albums

Other albums

  • 1985 Don't Mourn – Organize!: Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill – Various Artists (Smithsonian Folkways)
  • 1992 Rebel Voices: Songs of the Industrial Workers of the World – Various Artists (Flying Fish)
  • 1996 The Long Memory – Utah Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels (Red House Records)
  • 1997 Heart Songs: The Old Time Country Songs of Utah Phillips – Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin (Rounder)
  • 1997 Legends of Folk – Utah Phillips, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Spider John Koerner (Red House Records)
  • 2001 The Rose Tattoo Live – Trains, Tramps And Traditions The Rose Tattoo (Cookie Man Music)
  • 2008 May Day at the Pabst – Utah Philips, Larry Penn, recorded live in Milwaukee in 2006 (Cookie Man Music)
  • 2008 Strangers in Another Country: The Songs of Bruce "Utah" PhillipsRosalie Sorrels (Red House Records)
  • 2009 Singing Through the Hard Times: A Tribute to Utah Phillips – Various Artists (Righteous Babe Records)
  • 2011 Long Gone: Utah Remembers Bruce "Utah" Phillips – Various Artists from the Region of Utah, USA. (Waterbug Records)

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 "Utah Phillips Has Left the Stage" Archived August 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine , KVMR, Nevada City, California, May 24, 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  2. "Voting For the First Time" . Retrieved December 27, 2007. I'm an anarchist and I've been an anarchist many, many years.
  3. Phillips, Utah. clownzen.com Archived December 18, 2013, at the Wayback Machine June 2002 interview. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  4. 1 2 "Folk Revival in Salt Lake City?", folkworks.org. Retrieved 7 December 2013
  5. 1 2 3 4 Pelline, Jeff; Butler, Pat (May 26, 2008). "From hobo to fame". The Union . Archived from the original on May 30, 2008. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  6. Rattler, Fast. "Utah Phillips on the Catholic Worker, Polarization, and Songwriting". Archived from the original (interview) on December 12, 2007. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
  7. Crane, Carolyn. "Interview with Utah Phillips". Archived from the original (interview, Z Magazine) on January 20, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
  8. Hawthorn, Tom. "Unapologetic Wobbly folk singer found a second home in Canada". The Globe and Mail . Retrieved June 16, 2008.
  9. Direct quotation from his biography in The Washington Post, May 30, 2008.
  10. Phillips, Bruce. "Moose Turd Pie". Archived from the original (mp3) on June 13, 2007. Retrieved January 12, 2008.
  11. Merritt, Stephanie (April 28, 2001). "Life Support". The Guardian .
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 "Bruce Phillips". The Union . May 29, 2008. Retrieved June 7, 2008.
  13. Russell, Tony (June 24, 2008). "Utah Phillips: Folksinger, songwriter and bard of the last days of the US railroad". The Guardian . London. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  14. Phillips, U.Utah. "The Latest From FW Utah Phillips" (announcement). Retrieved February 24, 2008.
  15. Phillips, Utah. "Retirement Announcement". Archived from the original (mp3) on February 27, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
  16. Pillen, Dallas. "Collection Spotlight: The Utah Phillips Papers". Walter P. Reuther Library. Wayne State University. Retrieved December 22, 2014.

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