Folk music legend Utah Phillips dies at 73
Folk music legend and peace and labor activist Utah Phillips died in his sleep Friday night in his Nevada City home. He was 73.
Phillips had been suffering from a chronic heart disease since 2004. His remarkable career included international acclaim for the stories and songs he wrote about social and labor issues as well as his travels as a hobo who ran the rails as a young man.
His music career stretched over 38 years. He has lived in Nevada City for the past 21 years . Phillips established the Peace and Justice Center in Nevada City and helped start the Hospitality House, which provides shelter for homeless in the area.
Phillips, whose long white hair and beard and colorful outfits made him a standout in any crowd, emerged as folk music performer after the release in 1973 of his first album, “Good Though!,” which included the classic song “Moose Turd Pie.” The debut album focused on the railroad and social and labor unrest.
Bruce Phillips was born in May 15, 1935, in Cleveland , Ohio . He grew up in Utah until he ran away from home as a teenager and starting living as a hobo who rode the rails and wrote songs about those experiences. He would later take the name U. Utah Phillips, which he said was a tribute to musician T. Texas Tyler.
In 1956, he joined the Army and did a tour in Korea, which would motivate him to become a peace activist. In 1968, he ran for the U.S. Senate for the Peace and Freedom Party. He also was a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Some of his more notable recordings include “I’ve Got to Know” (1991); the four-CD “Starlight on the Rails: A Songbook” (2005); and, in collaboration with Ani DiFranco, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere” (1996), and “Fellow Worker” (1999), which was nominated for a Grammy Award. Phillips also hosted a weekly National Public Radio program, “Loafer’s Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind,” until 2002.
In a letter on May 14 that was published on his blog, he wrote: “My heart, which is enlarged and very weak, can’t pump enough blood to keep my body plunging forward at its usual 100 percent.
It allows me about 25 to 30 percent, which means I don’t get around very much or very easily anymore. I’m sustained (i.e., kept alive) by a medication called Milrinone, which is contained in a pump that I carry around with me in a shoulder bag.”
Phillips is survived by his wife, Joanna. The family asks that memorial donations be made to the Hospitality House in Grass Valley .
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