Saturday, November 14, 2009

Utah Phillips-Legendary Folk Musician and Labor Activist

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Called The "Golden Voice of the Great Southwest", Utah Phillips, a legendary folk musician and peace and labor activist,died at the age of seventy-three on May 23, 2008.
Over the span of nearly four decades, Utah Phillips worked in what he referred to as "the Trade," performing tirelessly throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. The son of labor organizers, Phillips was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. As a teenager, he ran away from home and started living as a hobo who rode the rails and wrote songs about his experiences. In 1956, he joined the Army and served in the Korean War, an experience he would later refer to as the turning point of his life. In 1968, he ran for the US Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. For the past twenty-one years he lived in Nevada City,California, where he started a nationally syndicated folk music radio show. He also helped found the Hospitality House homeless shelter and the Peace and Justice Center.
A few years before he passed, Utah swung by the place where he grew up, to do a show. The place was Salt Lake City, Utah, my home town. I just sat there in awe, listening to his unique brand of folk music and story telling....So sit back, relax, and listen to the stories, music, and most importantly, the message of a true American original....:)

Direct Action - Utah Phillips:
In memory of a great American, a true voice of the worker and a friend to all people that strive to be free.
Utah Phillips
May 15, 1935 -- May 23, 2008
You are loved and you will be missed!

Utah Phillips on Learning on the Road:
Amy Goodman interviews Utah Phillips for Democracy Now! in 2004. In Part 1 of the interview, he talks about his approach to music and learning from his audiences.

Utah Phillips on War and Non-Violence:
In part 2 of the interview, Utah discusses his own military service and becoming a pacifist.

Utah Phillips on His Name, the IWW, and War Resistance:
In Part 3 of the interview, Utah explains how he got the name "U. Utah", the history of war resistance, and the Wobblies.

Utah Phillips on the Role of the Media:
In part 4 of the interview, Utah talks about television, storytelling, capitalism, and alternative media.

Utah Phillips on "Making a Living, Not a Killing":
In part 5 of the interview, Utah tells how he started out in New York, fired his agent, and decided not to play music for profit.

U. Utah Phillips - 4 - Funniest Story Ever!? His performance at the Strawberry Music Festival Spring 2007, Camp Mather, Yosemite.

'I Will Not Obey' - Utah on Anarchism: Utah Phillips talks about Ammon Hennessy and anarchism.

U. Utah Phillips - Miner's Lullaby:
Utah Phillips discusses his song, "Miner's Lullaby," followed by bluegrass duo Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin performing his song. Miners would take a tin of morphine with them down in the shaft, in case of a cave in, or other disaster to ease the pain as they died. The lyrics of "Miner's Lullaby" are:

MINER'S LULLABY (Bruce 'Utah' Phillips)
Once, long ago, he was handsome and tall
And fit to be called to the war
We left our village, family and all
To never return any more

Now he takes his coat, his bucket and lamp
And whistles away to the cage
Where men young and old from all over the camp
Gather in search of a wage

Husband, sleep, lay your head back and dream
A slow fallen leaf borne down to the stream
Then carried away on the wings of morphine
Homeward far over the sea

My husband and I are Roman in faith
And we have a secret to keep
If ever his life is taken away
Then gentle and long will he sleep

Now some men pass with family around
And linens and blankets so clean
But seldom a miner goes underground
Without his tin of morphine

And now here's a word, an explosion is heard
The miners are trapped far below
If any survived down there alive
I'm certain we never will know

Although our families have vainly appealed
No rescue attempt can be seen
Our hope for loved ones in the dark earth sealed
Now lies in a tin of morphine

Chorus Words and music by Bruce 'Utah' Phillips. On Strike Music BMI.

Source: Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin 'Heart Songs: The Old Time Country Songs of Utah Phillips' Rounder CD 0424.

Related Post:
Odetta-"The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement."


  1. This is the most authentic, insightful and revealing profile of Utah Phillips that I've ever come across. Dave deserves to be commended for his work in creating this posting...thanks.

  2. Wow Dave, this guy sounds so interesting. Your were really fortunate to get a chance to see and hear him before he passed away. Unfortunately, I cannot hear the videos, my sound isn't working on my laptop. But when I get it fixed, I'm coming back to your site to hear them.


  3. I saw Utah perform live twice, once in Tucson and once in Ithaca, NY. Both times the venues were very small and intimate and there was a lot of interaction between him and the audience. Memorable occasions!