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This Week in Texas Music History: Washington Phillips


by Stephen Becker 23 Sep 2011

This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll remember a farmer and preacher who had a brief but influential recording career.

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Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman remembers a farmer and preacher who had a brief but influential recording career.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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Gospel musician Washington Phillips died on Sept. 20, 1954. He was born in Freestone County, Texas, on Jan. 11, 1880. Phillips was a farmer and a traveling preacher for several years before Columbia Records first recorded him in 1927. Phillips was unique not only for his distinctive tenor, but also for the fact that he accompanied himself on a homemade stringed instrument that resembled a zither. This gave his music a rather ethereal, and some say “spiritual,” sound.

For a brief period during the late 1920s, Washington Phillips was one of the best-selling gospel artists in the Southwest. However, the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s ended his recording career. He spent the remainder of his life farming, preaching and singing gospel music for his friends and family.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll recall a pioneering businesswoman whose life was a three-ring circus.

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