Phil Wiggins

21.03.2013

Biography

Phil Wiggins was born in Washington, D.C. in 1954 and spent his childhood summers at his grandmother’s home in Alabama, where he listened to old-time hymns sung in church in the traditional call-and-response style. Phil was attracted to the blues harp as a young man and began his musical career with some of Washington’s leading blues artists, including Archie Edwards and John Jackson, and attributes his style to his years spent accompanying locally noted slide guitarist and gospel singer Flora Molton.

Wiggins' harmonica sound developed from listening to piano and horn players, as well as the music of Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Little Walter, Big Walter Horton and Junior Wells. Phil also apprenticed with Mother Scott (a contemporary of Bessie Smith). Besides being a renowned harmonica player, Wiggins is also a gifted songwriter and singer.

He was mentored as well by many other musicians who frequented the D.C. area: Johnny Shines, Sam Chapman, Sunnyland Slim, Henry Townsend, Robert Lockwood, John Dee Holeman, Algia Mae Hinton, Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan, Etta Baker, and others. "I have always been amazed by and grateful for the generosity of these masters of traditional blues. They welcomed me and shared freely of their knowledge and abilities."

Phil performed with Flora Molten at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. every summer from 1972-1976. It was there in 1976 that he met and joined with Chief Ellis on piano, John Cephas on guitar, and James Bellamy on bass, forming the group Chief Ellis and the Barrelhouse Rockers. The group performed at several venues and festivals in the D. C. area until Chief retired and moved back home, coincidentally to Titusville, Alabama. Soon after returning home, Chief suffered a heart attack and passed on.

Not long after Chief's passing Phil and John Cephas formed the duo Cephas and Wiggins. This duo performed together for over 30 years, becoming America's premier blues duo. As ambassadors of the Piedmont blues, Cephas and Wiggins took their music all over America as well as all over the world. "John and I have performed on every continent except Antarctica." Some venues of note include Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall, and the White House.

John Cephas passed on March 4, 2009. Phil Wiggins is determined to carry on with his music, his harp playing, his singing, his songwriting, his teaching….. "staying rooted in my past, thriving in the present, and constantly reaching toward the future".

Testimonials

“Phil is among a very small handful of virtuosos whose command of his instrument takes my breath away.  His talent rivals that of any artist I’ve encountered in my career in Classical music, in my view placing him in the company of the Yo-Yo Mas and the Joshua Bells of the world.”

Scott Freck
Vice President for Artistic Operations & General Manager
North Carolina Symphony

"An acoustic harmonica-guitar blues duo who are uniquely able to showcase the synthesis of African and European elements that co-exist in the blues, Phil Wiggins & Corey Harris are among the most dynamic live blues musicians of our time. They represent the next generation of blues musicians, simultaneously steeped in the tradition while bringing a renewed vitality and creativity to the genre. This new partnership is a must-hear!"

Triangle Arts and Entertainment

"This weekend was a really special experience for us. After having followed Phil and John for years and then hearing your music (Rick Franklin), it is so very special to me that you and Phil are playing together. In addition to loving the music you play, hearing the history that connects you both to the music you play is tops."

Pattie Macie, Fan