"Phillips Sent Me"
Has Become Vital Part of City's Lexicon
Memphis Commercial Appeal - June 9, 1950


BEAMING BOOGIE - Dewey M. Phillips plays blues and spirituals, too, whatever his Negro listeners like. Disc jockey for WHBQ, he's the guy who put the chant, "Phililips sent me" on the lips of practically every Negro in town.

Staff Photo by Bob Williams

By IDA CLEMENS

If "Kilroy was here" - or anywhere - it's a leadpipe cinch that Phillips musta sent 'im.
Who's this guy Phillips? He's a lanky six-footer, has red hair and sleepy blue eyes that screen a shrewd sense for business. His Southern drawl is as thick as a stack of Aunt Jemima's pancakes. And he's always messin' things up, including the English language.
But "Phillips sent me" is to the 1950 lexicon what "23, skidoo" was to the 1920s.
Beaming his radio program over WHBQ at Memphis' Negro listeners, Dewey M. Phillips urges one and all to go to so-and-so's store and tell 'em (with a yell) "that Phillips sent ya."

He Changed Sale Date
That's exactly what his listeners do - so much so that merchants who don't even advertise on the program are demanding to know who-the-heck is Phillips?
Just to show how literally his fans take him.
One day, messin' things up again, Phillips announced a sale of women's dresses would start on a Tuesday. The sale was set for Wednesday.
But . . . before the doors opened Tuesday morning the crowd was there. Someone started "Open d' do'. Phillips sent me." The crowd took up the chant and bedlam threatened. The store had to change its whole operation and hold the sale on Tuesday.
Now for a flashback (just like in the movies) to how it all began, the success story of a man whose birthdays number 24.
Two years ago and just out of the Army, Mr. Phillips was taking voice at Memphis College of Music. He wanted to get into something musical so he applied for a job in the Record Department of the W. T. Grant Co. on Main.
He'd never sold anything in his life but when H. E. Van Meter, store manager, asked "Can you sell?" his laconic reply was, "Yeah."
He could. The department wasn't doing very well at the time. Mr. Phillips has built it to one of the top five departments in the company's 489 stores.
Mr. Van Meter freely admits he had to put the young man who started at $30 a week on a percentage basis "to keep from losing him."
But Mr. Phillips wanted to increase his record sales and his percentage still more. One night he heard WHBQ's program, "Red Hot and Blue." That, he decided, was for him. He dogged the station for months before they agreed to take on a man with no radio experience whatsoever.

He Cited His Mistakes
Right off, it looked as though they might regret it. Mr. Phillips lack of experience brought mistakes a the control panel but . . .
"Wait a minute, that's supposed to be on 78. Aw, Phillips you're always messin' things up," the young man ad libbed - and listeners loved it.
Now even advertisers, when asked how Mr. Phillips should pronounce a certain name, say, "Aw, let him mess it up." Negroes flock to Grant's just to see the man "what gets hisself so messed up."
When Mr. Phillips took over "Red Hot and Blue," it was a 15-minute spot with no sponsors. That was last October. The program stretched to one hour, to two hours, and has grown to three on Saturday nights.
By he same token, Mr. Phillips's fan mail requesting recordings has grown from three letters his first week to more than 3000 in a recent week. He receives 40 to 50 telegrams on week nights and more than 100 on Saturday nights. The program is sold out for six months and there's a waiting list.
Mr. Phillips doesn't give away a thing. He just gives his listeners what they want - boogie, blues and spirituals - from 10 to midnight nightly (except Sunday) and 10 to 1 on Saturday night. From 11 to 5:30 p.m. he runs the Record Department at Grant's.
But it's his "I don't care where you go how you go, just say Phillips sent you" that has spread like everything among the Negro population - with some amusing twists.

To Be Song Title
For example, a woman cut up her husband somewhat in a domestic tussle. When the ambulance arrived, she said, "carry the guy to the hospital and tell 'em Phillips sent 'im."
Negroes greet each other on Beale Street with "Phillips sent me, man!" One day a Negro employe at a military hospital was to see the personnel manager. Asked "who sent you?" she answered "Phillips," before she could collect her thoughts.
Mr. Phillips' flair for showmanship is paying off - on a percentage basis. His show is being considered for coast to coast broadcast over Mutual.
Furthermore, he has an uncanny sense for picking hits. Eleven current hit recordings got that way after he played and plugged them on his program.
Joe Liggins and his Honey Drippers, one of the top Negro recording artists, plant to record a song titled "Phillips Sent Me."
Tune in some night and listen to this guy Phillips who's going places himself. By the way, he's married, has a six-month-old son and lives at 1232 Rutland.

Article by Ida Clemens - June 9, 1950 Commercial Appeal courtesy Ger Rijff
Bob Williams photo of Dewey is courtesy Commercial Appeal Files

article added May 23, 2013

This article is reprinted exactly as it appeared in the June 9th 1950 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal for posterity, typos, misspellings, political incorrectness and all.

 

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