Remembering the Little Giant – Bigger than Life – Ernie Phillips

Kingsmen with Ernie Phillips and Squire Parsons
Kingsmen with Ernie Phillips and Squire Parsons

Ernie Phillips was the son of the late Vernon and Pauline Phillips of Cool Ridge, West Virginia. A 1968 graduate of Shady Spring High School, he received the “Citizen of the Year” award. He also received a scholarship to Beckley College, where he received an A. B. A. Degree in Business Administration. Phillips later attended the Electronic Computer Programming Institute in Charleston, West Virginia, where he received a Certificate of Achievement.

Ernie Phillips accepted Christ at an early age and he loved the Lord. His love of family, church, and Southern gospel music ministry, was only matched by his love and dedication to country. He was one of the good guys. You could tell by his walk and talk he knew his daily path was ordered and rooted in his faith.

Ernie Phillips
Ernie Phillips

Phillips served in the military from 1970 to 1973 in the United States Army. He was stationed in South Carolina, Georgia, and Baumholder, Germany. While in Germany, he worked as a Missile Repair Parts Specialist and Radio Relay Technician, which resulted in an Army Commendation Medal for working two jobs at the same time. After military service, Phillips worked at the V.A. Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia, as a Supply Specialist and Warehouseman.

Kingsmen on stage with Ernie Phillips
Kingsmen on stage with Ernie Phillips

Upon his return from military service, this tenor’s love of Southern gospel quartet music began to grow even more. Phillips sang with several local church groups from Beckley for a period of five years. He joined a popular gospel quartet, The Crossmen, from Beckley, in 1975, and sang tenor with them on weekends for two years.

It wasn’t long before Eldridge Fox came calling for the little West Virginia tenor to join the “Ton Of Fun.” Phillips was a member of the Kingsmen Quartet from 1977 – 1983 during which time he was affectionately dubbed “The Little Giant”.

Squire Parsons, Ernie Phillips and Big Mac McLeod
Squire Parsons, Ernie Phillips and Big Mac McCauley

Phillips was nominated as Favorite First Tenor by a national magazine for six years. He won the tenor award in 1980 and 1981. Phillips also wrote a column called “Kingsmen Korner” for a national gospel music publication for six years.

After leaving the Kingsmen, Phillips’ idea was to do solo work and spend more time with the family. But you know what they say about the best laid out plans.  

Squire Parsons, Ernie Phillips and Big Mac McCauley In a matter of time, another call came asking the vocalist to join a couple other former Kingsmen to sing a little. Phillips was also a part of Squire Parsons Ministries in the 1980’s. Together Squire, Phillips and Jim “Big Mac” McCauley formed “Redeemed.” Redeemed sang on most of Squire’s dates during Phillips’ tenure.

Subsequently, Phillips returned to a solo ministry, signing a recording agreement with Eventide Records of Nashville, Tennessee. He traveled for a time sharing his message and singing his gospel music.

However, his love of quartet music won out as he later joined the Land of the Sky Quartet, singing with them from February 2000 until October 2018. He also sang with the Landmarks Quartet from Erwin, Tennessee from 2006 through September 2018, juggling two quartet schedules.

Squire recently said, “Ernie Phillips is one of my best friends and a singing buddy. He means a lot to me and my family. He is a real giant among men. His testimony shows in the life he has lived.”

The Kingsmen with Ernie Phillips filling in
The Kingsmen with Ernie
Phillips filling in

Writers note: Over the years, Phillips had been scheduled at the Hallelujah Supper Club with the Kingsmen, Squire Parsons and Redeemed, or as a soloist. Whether with a group or others, you could tell the love of God just shined through when Phillips was sharing. He beamed about the good things happening in his life and family. I never heard a negative word. There was always a smile. He had wonderful sense of humor. And could he forevermore eat some food. (We never figured out where he put it.) I will never forget the first weekend I booked him at the HSC and my home church. He was so thankful someone would take a chance on booking him. He quickly became family in short order.

Now it is hard to imagine just how much Phillips loved gospel music. But he really loved quartet gospel music. Yes, when a call would come, he would answer. In addition to the Land of the Sky’ and Landmarks’ schedule, Phillips returned to the Kingsmen for three months in 2012, and three more months again in 2016, while a full-time tenor was being sought. When Squire would call, you would see Phillips on stage sharing with his long-time singing buddy and close friend. It was not uncommon to see him fill in a date here and there for any of his singing buddies.

His day job was gospel music if you had asked him. But when not on the road singing, and from 1980 until retirement in 2010, Phillips worked as a Supply Technician at the VA Medical Center in Asheville, N. C. He was awarded “1995 Employee of the Year.” His retirement marked 30 years of distinguished service.

Phillips married the love of his life, the former Bonnie Edwards from Crab Orchard, West Virginia. Together they had four children: Son – Eric (Lauren) of Gadsden, Alabama; and two daughters, April and Stacey (Brooks) of Asheville, North Carolina, and another son, Chad Aaron, predeceased. They also had two grandchildren, Carli and Blake Ernie had two sisters, Lana Bell (Larry) and Lorraine Hart (Sam) and nieces and nephews.

Ernie and Bonnie were members of Trinity Baptist Church, where he was known to sing special songs from time to time. He loved his church family and they love the Phillips family.

As many know, Phillips fought a courageous battle with cancer over the last eleven years. In conversations, rarely would anyone hear a negative or complaining word. He remained steadfast in his faith no matter how tired or taxing his treatments.

On a recent conversation, Phillips shared, “If God sees fit to heal me physically, I win. But if I am healed in a spiritual sense, I win. You see either way I’m good with what is in store for me. All is well with me. I know where my heart lies and where I am going. I win.”

Phillips graduated from this life to his heavenly home on November 29, 2018. He had been surrounded by family and loving friends. For some time, he was looking forward to the next step in his journey. 

The family thanks members of Care Partners Hospice for their care and kindness to Ernie and the Phillips family during this time. A special thanks to his nurse, Aaron, and sweet CNA, Morgan. “They were a God send.” Memorials may be made to Trinity Baptist Building Fund, 216 Shelburne Road, Asheville, North Carolina 28806.

By Charlie Griffin

Special to SGNScoops Magazine