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Iconic Blues Harmonica Master Phil Wiggins Dies At 69

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Phil Wiggins, an iconic harmonica player best known for his mastery of the blues, has reportedly died in Maryland at the age of 69. Wiggins was a blues legend, plain and simple.

A specific cause of death has not been released for Wiggins, who died in Takoma Park on May 7th. The harmonica master famously said,

“The harmonica works the same way as your voice. You have an idea in your mind that you want to express, & it just comes out, the same way speaking happens.”

Phil Wiggins

Born in Washington D.C. in 1954, Wiggins made a name for himself by joining impromptu jams, mixing in jazz and gospel influences into his blues harmonica style. The young man was quickly revered as a master of his craft.

He then mastered the Piedmont blues style, an upbeat take on the genre that blended in influences from ragtime and country. Wiggins famously said,

“People automatically think of sadness and depression when they think of blues. But the blues, of course, is uplifting music, music to rejuvenate you, to nourish the spirit. When you get down, the blues will pick you up again.”

Phil Wiggins

In 1976, Wiggins met guitarist John Cephas, forming a band with the singer called Cephas & Wiggins. The band would go on to have tremendous success.

As Cephas & Wiggins, the pair played, toured, and recorded together until Cephas’ death in 2009. Often touring via a sponsorship from the United States Department of State, they played across the world, including shows in the Soviet Union, at the Sydney Opera House, at the White House, and other sites.

Cephas & Wiggins recorded over a dozen albums together. Wiggins earned a National Heritage Fellowship in 2017 and won the State of Maryland Heritage Award in 2021. 

SmithsonianFolkLife said about the legend’s death,

“With the passing of Phil Wiggins, we’ve lost a master musician and visionary who gracefully carried traditional blues across the generations.”

SmithsonianFolkLife

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