Blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins.

Centrum mourns the loss of Phil Wiggins

The Centrum community joins the nation and world in grieving the loss of our dear friend and champion of Piedmont and Country Blues, Phil Wiggins. The cherished artist and former Artistic Director of Centrums Acoustic Blues Workshop left us on May 7, just a day before his seventieth birthday.

Phil Wiggins was a versatile traditional harmonica player, continuing the Piedmont blues tradition, a gentle and melodic blues style of the mid-Atlantic region. He played the diatonic ten-hole harmonica in the country blues style, cupping both hands around the instrument and playing acoustically. His sound was shaped not by the gear, the microphone or amplifier when performing on stage, instead by his complex syncopated patterns, breath-control and rhythm, stylistic virtuosity and fiery solo runs. Washington, D.C. native and Takoma Park, Maryland, resident, blues musician, teacher and artistic director, a two-time winner of the prestigious WC Handy Blues Foundation awards, Phil was only the third harmonica player to receive the lifetime honor of an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) annually awards one-time-only NEA National Heritage Fellowships to master folk and traditional artists, to recognize lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. In 2021 he was awarded the Maryland Heritage Award, also the most prestigious cultural award bestowed on the arts in the state.


Acoustic Blues Artistic Directors past and present, Jontavious Willis, Phil Wiggins, Jerron Paxton
Flora Molton and Phil Wiggins at the 1976 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Photo by Daphne Shuttleworth, Ralph Rinzler Smithsonian Folklife Archives

The New York Times obituary published in the days following Phils passing.


Mark Puryear who interviewed Phil as part of the Blues talks last summer, also wrote a memorable account of Phil for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival


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