JTMP Featured Activist Musician: Utah Philips

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utah phillips carptrash cc jtmp featured activist musician: utah philips

I was jamming out to one of my favorite folk-bluegrass songs, "Green Rolling Hills (of West Virginia)" and researching who wrote the song, I ran into an awesome story about a great activist musician named "Utah" Phillips. Bruce "Utah" Phillips was a legendary activist musician that is described as poet, storyteller, labor organizer, and the "Golden Voice of the Great Southwest". He was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1935, eventually joined the army in 1956, and saw the horrors of war with his own eyes in the Korea following the war there. On his return he threw himself into activism, and worked at Joe Hill House, a house of hospitality. He even ran for US Senate and the US Presidency. He was a big fixture in the folk music scene in Saratoga Springs, New York for years, and was a proud member of the IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World. His concerts were his opportunity to opine his political thoughts, and were in essence IWW meetings. He wrote "Enola Gay" in 1991, commenting on the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was also a member of Veterans for Peace, a huge group here in Washington, DC when it comes to rallies and activism. As you will see below, "Utah" often preceded his songs with long storytelling.

He eventually settled down in Nevada City, California where he started up a shelter Hospitality House, and also the Peace and Justice Center. He died in 2008 of heart disease.

In the 1970s "Utah" wrote "Green Rolling Hills", which has become a folk and bluegrass music scene staple, and sings of the troubles of a coal miner in West Virginia not finding work (probably because there is no union).  Emmylou Harris covered the song in her 1978 album "Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town", and Kathy Mattea has recently recorded a version of it. In a Herald-Dispatch.com obituary, "Utah" describes traveling through West Virginia and connecting with the folks there who want to leave because there are no jobs, but cannot leave because, "It's these hills. They keep you. And when they've got you, they won't let you go." Listen to "Enola Gay" from "Utah" Phillips, a legendary activist-musician who will be long remembered, in a Youtube video below. Check out the wonderful and rich world of activist-musician "Utah" Phillips at his website: TheLongMemory.com.  (photo credit: Carptrash/CC)

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