Utah Phillips, 2006
|Birth name||Bruce Duncan Phillips|
|Born||May 15, 1935|
|Died||May 23, 2008 73) (aged|
Nevada City, California
|Occupation(s)||Songwriter, performer, raconteur|
Bruce Duncan "Utah" Phillips (May 15, 1935 – May 23, 2008) was an American labor organizer, folk singer, storyteller and poet. He described the struggles of labor unions and the power of direct action, self-identifying as an anarchist. He often promoted the Industrial Workers of the World in his music, actions, and words.
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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.
Phillips attended East High School in Salt Lake City, where he was involved in the arts and plays.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.
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.Phillips assisted him in establishing a mission house of hospitality named after the activist Joe Hill. 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.
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.
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.
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"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. In 1998, he was the first recipient of the Kate Wolf Memorial Award from the World Folk Music Association.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 admirer, Ani DiFranco, recorded two CDs, The Past Didn't Go Anywhere (1996) and Fellow Workers (1999), with him. 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.
Though known primarily for his work as a concert performer and labor organizer, Phillips also worked as an archivist, dishwasher, and warehouse-man.
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.
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.
He married Joanna Robinson on July 31, 1989, in Nevada City.
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.
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,and the Peace and Justice Center. "It's my town. Nevada City is a primary seed-bed for community organizing."
In August 2007, Phillips announced that he would undergo catheter ablation to address his heart problems.Later that autumn, Phillips announced that due to health problems he could no longer tour. By January 2008, he decided against a heart transplant.
Phillips died May 23, 2008 in Nevada City, California, from complications of heart disease, eight days after his 73rd birthday,and is buried in Forest View Cemetery in Nevada City.
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.
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, subdivided between the various industries which employ its members. The philosophy and tactics of the IWW are described as "revolutionary industrial unionism", with ties to both socialist and anarchist labor movements.
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.
Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund and also known as Joseph Hillström, was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. A native Swedish speaker, he learned English during the early 1900s, while working various jobs from New York to San Francisco. Hill, an immigrant worker frequently facing unemployment and underemployment, became a popular songwriter and cartoonist for the union. His most famous songs include "The Preacher and the Slave", "The Tramp", "There Is Power in a Union", "The Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones—the Union Scab", which express the harsh and combative life of itinerant workers, and call for workers to organize their efforts to improve working conditions.
Christian anarchism is a movement in political theology that claims anarchism is inherent in Christianity and the Gospels. It is grounded in the belief that there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable—the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus. It therefore rejects the idea that human governments have ultimate authority over human societies. Christian anarchists denounce the state, believing it is violent, deceitful and, when glorified, idolatrous. Christian anarchists hold that the "Reign of God" is the proper expression of the relationship between God and humanity. Under the "Reign of God", human relationships would be characterized by divided authority, servant leadership, and universal compassion—not by the hierarchical, authoritarian structures that are normally attributed to religious social order. Most Christian anarchists are pacifists—they reject war and the use of violence.
"Solidarity Forever", written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915, is a popular trade union anthem. It is sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Although it was written as a song for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), other union movements, such as the AFL-CIO, have adopted the song as their own. The song has been performed by musicians such as Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, and was redone by Emcee Lynx and The Nightwatchman. It is still commonly sung at union meetings and rallies in the United States, Australia and Canada, and has also been sung at conferences of the Australian Labor Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party. This may have also inspired the hymn of the consumer cooperative movement, "The Battle Hymn of Cooperation", which is sung to the same tune.
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.
Matti Valentin Huhta, better known by his pen name T-Bone Slim, was an American humorist, poet, songwriter, hobo, and labor activist, who played a prominent role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
The Joe Hill House was a Catholic Worker Movement house of hospitality in Salt Lake City, Utah co-founded in 1961 by Ammon Hennacy and Mary Lathrop. Providing social services and housing to the homeless, the Joe Hill House operated until 1968.
James Echael Wadham was an American Democratic politician from California.
The San Diego free speech fight in San Diego, California, in 1912–1913 was one of the most famous of the "free speech fights", class conflicts over the free speech rights of labor unions.
Free speech fights are struggles over free speech, and especially those struggles which involved the Industrial Workers of the World and their attempts to gain awareness for labor issues by organizing workers and urging them to use their collective voice. During the World War I period in the United States, the IWW members, engaged in free speech fights over labor issues which were closely connected to the developing industrial world as well as the Socialist Party. The Wobblies, along with other radical groups, were often met with opposition from local governments and especially business leaders, in their free speech fights.
Wobbly lingo is a collection of technical language, jargon, and historic slang used by the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies, for more than a century. Many Wobbly terms derive from or are coextensive with hobo expressions used through the 1940s.
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.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a union of wage workers which was formed in Chicago in 1905 by militant unionists and their supporters due to anger over the conservatism, philosophy, and craft-based structure of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Throughout the early part of the 20th century, the philosophy and tactics of the IWW were frequently in direct conflict with those of the AFL concerning the best ways to organize workers, and how to best improve the society in which they toiled. The AFL had one guiding principle—"pure and simple trade unionism", often summarized with the slogan "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." The IWW embraced two guiding principles, fighting like the AFL for better wages, hours, and conditions, but also promoting an eventual, permanent solution to the problems of strikes, injunctions, bull pens, and union scabbing.
The Dil Pickle Club or Dill Pickle Club was once a popular Bohemian club in Chicago, Illinois between 1917 and 1935. The Dil Pickle was known as a speakeasy, cabaret and theatre and was influential during the "Chicago Renaissance" as it allowed a forum for free thinkers. It was founded and owned by Wobbly John "Jack" Jones and was frequented by popular American authors, activists and speakers.
The Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO), an organization of farm workers throughout the United States and Canada, was formed on April 15, 1915, in Kansas City. It was supported by, and a subsidiary organization of, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Although the IWW had advocated the abolition of the wage system as an ultimate goal since its own formation ten years earlier, the AWO's founding convention sought rather to address immediate needs, and championed a ten-hour work day, premium pay for overtime, a minimum wage, good food and bedding for workers. In 1917 the organization changed names to the Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (AWIU) as part of a broader reorganization of IWW industrial unions.
The Syndicalist League of North America was an organization led by William Z. Foster that aimed to "bore from within" the American Federation of Labor to win that trade union center over to the ideals of Revolutionary syndicalism.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a union of wage workers which was formed in Chicago in 1905. The IWW experienced a number of divisions and splits during its early history.
"Casey Jones—the Union Scab" is a song, written by labor figure Joe Hill in San Pedro, California, shortly after the first day of a nationwide walkout of 40,000 railway employees in the Illinois Central shopmen's strike of 1911. It is a parody of the song "The Ballad of Casey Jones" and is sung to its tune.
I'm an anarchist and I've been an anarchist many, many years.
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