Born in Washington, D.C. in 1954, Centrum’s Artistic Director for Blues Phil Wiggins began his musical career with some of Washington’s leading blues artists, including the locally noted slide guitarist and gospel singer Flora Molton. He also apprenticed with Mother Scott (a contemporary of Bessie Smith). He met John in 1976 and, along with pianist Wilbert “Big Chief” Ellis and bassist James Bellamy, they formed the Barrelhouse Rockers. After Ellis’ death in 1977, the duo of Cephas & Wiggins was born. Besides being a renowned harmonica player, Wiggins is also a gifted songwriter whose material has helped define the duo’s sound. Often called the Ambassadors of The Blues, Cephas & Wiggins continue to bring Piedmont blues to audiences all over the world.
As a duo, Cephas & Wiggins are recognized as the leading exponents of traditional Piedmont blues. They recorded their first domestic album in 1987, Dog Days of August, and it quickly won a W.C. Handy Award (the Grammy of the blues community) for “Best Traditional Blues Album Of The Year” They also took home the Handy Award for “Blues Entertainers of the Year,” an Award that usually goes to electric blues artists. In 1989, John Cephas received a National Heritage Fellowship Award. Often called the “Living Treasure” Award, this is the highest honor the United States government offers a traditional artist.
Aside from his busy schedule performing, Wiggins has also done his share of acting. Phil was in the cast of Matewon, a prize-winning Hollywood film. Cephas & Wiggins together have appeared in the stage production of Chewing The Blues and in the documentary films Blues Country and Houseparty. They’ve also been featured in four nationally touring productions: Masters of the Steel String Guitar, Juke Joints and Jubilee, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Echoes of Africa. Two albums in the early 1990s brought them even more recognition and earned them additional critical acclaim and praise.