Washington Phillips

George Washington "Wash" Phillips (January 11, 1880 – September 20, 1954) was an American gospel and gospel blues singer and instrumentalist. The exact nature of the instrument or instruments he played is uncertain, being identified only as "novelty accompaniment" on the labels of the 78 rpm records released during his lifetime.

He was born in Texas, on January 11, 1880, the son of Tim Phillips (from Mississippi) and Nancy Phillips (née Cooper, from Texas).

People who knew him as an adult recalled him as standing about 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) or 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m) tall, and being "stocky" or about 180 lb (82 kg); and that he was a snuff-dipper. He farmed 30–40 acres (12–16 ha) of land by the settlement of Simsboro near Teague, Texas. He was described as a "jack-leg preacher" – i.e. someone not necessarily an ordained minister, who would attend regular services at churches hoping for an opportunity to preach, but who would more often address spontaneous gatherings in the street, or set up their own storefront churches. He was a member of Pleasant Hill Trinity Baptist Church in Simsboro, but is also known to have attended the "sanctified" St. Paul Church of God In Christ, and the St. James Methodist Church, Teague. His song "Denomination Blues" criticizes sectarianism in organized religion and hypocritical preachers. His uncomplicated and sincere faith is summarised in the last two lines of that song:

It's right to stand together, it's wrong to stand apart,
'Cause none's going to heaven but the pure in heart. And that's all.

Between 1927 and 1929, he recorded 18 songs for Columbia Records in a makeshift recording studio in Dallas, Texas, under the direction of Frank B. Walker. Six of those songs were the first and second parts of three two-part songs, intended for opposite sides of one record. Four songs were unreleased at the time, and two are thought to have been lost.

On September 20, 1954, he died of head injuries,[1] sustained in a fall down a flight of stairs at the welfare office in Teague. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Cotton Gin Cemetery, six miles west of Teague. His wife Marie outlived him.

Some sources give his birthdate as c. 1892 and/or his date and place of death as December, 1938 in Austin State Hospital. Research has shown that that was a different Washington Phillips, the son of Houston Phillips and Emma Phillips (née Titus); he too farmed near Teague.

Some sources (notably, some AllMusic entries) refer to him as "Blind Washington Phillips". There is no suggestion in other reliable sources that he had anything less than perfect sight.