Phil Wiggins was born on the 8th of May, 1954 in Washington, D.C. His parents had moved to Washington from Titusville, Alabama in 1941. “The closer the time came for “going home”, the stronger my mother’s southern brogue got. Whenever my mother used the word “home” she was talking about Titusville.” Phil spent many of his childhood summers in Titusville and cites the time he spent there as one of the main reasons for his strong connection with blues. “I would walk my grandmother around the corner to the church on Thursday evenings for prayer meeting. I would wait outside and hear the elder women of the church singing prayers and praises. The context was religious, but the sound was deep blues.”
During the early years of his development as a musician, Phil was constantly playing with and learning from some of the most notable acoustic blues musicians that made their homes in the Washington area: Flora Molten, Mother Ester Mae Scott, Wilber “Chief” Ellis, John Jackson, Archie Edwards, John Cephas, and
others. 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.