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Wayne State University’s Reuther Library opens Utah Phillips collection for research

The Union photo/Louise Caulfield

Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther Library recently announced the opening of the Utah Phillips Papers for research. A well-known folk singer, storyteller, poet, radio host and activist, Bruce Duncan “Utah” Phillips was a prominent member of the American folk music community in the latter half of the 20th century. Phillips was a longtime Nevada County resident and helped found Hospitality House, whose shelter bears his name.

Phillips’ widow, Joanna Robinson, selected the Reuther Library as the repository for the papers because Reuther also serves as the repository for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a labor organization that Phillips was heavily involved with.

Arriving in 45 cardboard boxes, Phillips himself described the materials as “what academics have characterized as my personal archives, but are in fact a jumble of papers and objects, the detritus of over half a century.”



The collection includes documents from Phillips’ professional and political activities predominantly from 1968 to 2008, including drafts of songs, poems and stories as well as set lists, tour itineraries, and other materials associated with his performances. In addition to notes, agendas and texts for his radio show, the collection also features correspondence with fellow musicians like Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, Ani DiFranco, Rosalie Sorrels, Kate Wolf and Faith Petric. Photographs, posters, audio and video recordings and memorabilia related to Phillips’ career as a singer and traveling musician also make up a portion of this collection.

“…what academics have characterized as my personal archives, but are in fact a jumble of papers and objects, the detritus of over half a century.”
Utah Phillips

The collection also documents Phillips’ political and social activism, including his involvement with the IWW and other labor groups, his pacifist involvement with peace organizations and his contributions to environmentalist and homeless advocacy organizations. Finally, the papers document Utah’s faith through texts and programs for sermons delivered by Utah to Unitarian Universalist congregations.




“This folk artist’s collection is like no other that we have at the Reuther,” said Reuther Field Archivist Louis Jones. “This body of material not only documents Phillips’ musical career, but his involvement with the working class, organized labor and progressive activism, making his collection particularly unique and of sure interest to a wide range of researchers.”

For more information on the Utah Phillips Papers or Utah Phillips, visit http://reuther.wayne.edu/node/12357.


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