Washington Phillips (January 11, 1880 – September 20, 1954) was a Texan gospel singer and musician, born in Freestone County, Texas. Phillips died in 1954 in Teague, Texas.


Phillips recorded eighteen songs, all between 1927 and 1929 in Dallas, for Columbia Records, though only sixteen survive. Some of his songs amount to highly specific and detailed gospel sermons, featuring Phillips' voice self-accompanied by an instrument that sounds like a fretless zither. This instrument, which has been variously identified as a Dolceola, a Celestaphone, two Celestaphones tuned in octaves attached side-by-side, or a Phonoharp (and also is considered by some to be an instrument entirely home-made by Phillips) creates a unique sound on these recordings that makes them immediately recognizable. Columbia A&R exec Frank B. Walker, who supervised the Phillips sessions said in a 1962 interview that Phillips' instrument was homemade. "Nobody on earth could use it but him," he said.

Posthumous fameEdit

Numerous compilations of Washington Phillips' complete recorded work have been released, such as The Key to the Kingdom on Yazoo Records in 2005. His songs have been covered by a variety of artists:

List of recordingsEdit

  • "The Church Needs Good Deacons"
  • "Denomination Blues – Part 1"
  • "Denomination Blues – Part 2"
  • "I Am Born to Preach the Gospel"
  • "I Had a Good Father and Mother"
  • "I've Got the Key to the Kingdom"
  • "Jesus Is My Friend"
  • "Lift Him Up That's All"
  • "A Mother's Last Word to Her Daughter". This song shares tune and chorus with "Bye and Bye I'm Goin' to See the King" by Blind Willie Johnson
  • "A Mother's Last Word to Her Son"
  • "Paul and Silas in Jail"
  • "Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There"
  • "Train Your Child"
  • "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today"
  • "You Can't Stop a Tattler – Part 1"
  • "You Can't Stop a Tattler – Part 2"
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