John Edmund Andrew Phillips
GWHS Class '53

Papa John of Mamas and Papas

John was born on August 18, 1935 in Parris Island, SC

John attended some military schools before the family moved to Alexandria Virginia and lived at 3 East Oxford Ave in the Del Ray section. John attended George Washington High School, Class of ‘53. In high school, he played in several bands. John married his high school sweetheart, Susie Adams. They had two children: Jeffrey; and Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie starred in the sitcom “One Day at a Time” in the 1970s.

After high school, John and Susie lived at 917 Potomac Ave Apt B1 in the Belle Heaven area, and then John moved to New York, where he became a founding member of the Journeymen, a folk group that also included Scott McKenzie. While performing with the group, he divorced his first wife Susan of GWHS and took up with Michelle Gilliam, a waiflike beauty barely out of her teens, whom he later married. John and Michelle had a daughter named Chynna.

He left the Journeymen and, with Michelle, joined two former members of a group called the Mugwumps, Doherty and Elliot. They performed briefly in New York, and then went to California where they were “discovered” by a record producer Lou Adler. They took the name the Mamas and the Papas, supposedly after learning that members of California biker gang the Hell’s Angels called their ladies “mamas.” John Phillips, his then wife Michelle Gillian Phillips, Denny Doherty and Ellen Naomi Cohen (Mama Cass Elliot), a student in late 50s/early 60s of GW High School of Alexandria VA, formed the Mamas and the Papas in 1965. The group broke new ground for having women and men in one group at a time when most pop bands were all-male or all-female. The group combined rock, pop and folk elements, sang clear and intelligent lyrics and had a rash of hit songs before disbanding in 1968. Two decades later, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They recorded their first single, “California Dreamin’,” in 1966. With an almost haunting melody, the song contrasted an upbeat California climate with a bleak northern winter. The group won a 1966 Grammy Award for best contemporary group performance for the single “Monday, Monday,” a song written by John and sung in their trademark harmony that evoke a feeling of foreboding that many feel on the first day of the workweek.

Throughout 1966 and 1967, the Mamas and the Papas were more commercially successful than any of these other bands, and that is saying a good deal. They spawned a sound-alike group that had its own handful of hits, Spanky and Our Gang. “Coupling a sure melodic sense to a flair for zeitgeist sloganeering, John made music that was hip yet unthreatening,” critic Paul Evans once observed. “The band’s marketability was also boosted by a clearly delineated visual lineup: John, the six-foot-four ‘genius”; Doherty the winsome one; Mama Cass the earth mother and Michelle the mistily gorgeous hippie chick.”

John wrote such songs as “I Saw Her again Last Night”, “Creeque Alley and “Monday-Monday”; lyrics pointed out that “Monday, can’t trust that day” and that while “every other day of the week is fine…wherever Monday come, you can find me crying all of the time.” He masterful revival of a song made popular by the Shirelles, “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

John also wrote songs for other groups, such as the Grateful Dead and the Beach Boys. He wrote a massive hit for Scott McKenzie call “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair),” which became a kind of hippie tribute to the city by the bay.

The Mamas and the Papas disbanded in 1968 following John and Michelle Phillips’ divorce. There were stories of sexual tension, drug and alcohol abuse and professional jealousy appeared. The group reunited briefly in 1971, then the members went their different ways. The Phillips briefly reformed the band in 1982 with Doherty, John’s daughter Mackenzie and Elaine “Spanky” McFarland, and the foursome toured playing oldies and new John’s originals songs. Mama Cass left to become a successful solo artist (she would die young, of a heart attack, in 1974). John, Michelle and Denney were involved in a romantic triangle that ended in a considerable acrimony.

John help organize the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival,. At which the Mamas and the Papas performed and which is crecxited with introducing Jim Hendrix and The Who to American mass audience.

Mama Cass, the outsized and outrageous lady with the angel’s voice, probably achieved the most success, before dying in 1974.

John seems to spiral ever downward in a self-willed haze of drugs and alcohol; in 1980 he was convicted on a narcotics charge and spent a month in jail; then went into rehabilitation for drug, addiction; then, six months after, he announced he had quit drinking; and he received a liver transplant in 1992. He openly talked of talk’s addiction to alcohol and illegal drugs. After release and rehabilitation, he formed the new Mama and Papas (in partnership with his similarly to-hell-and-back daughter, television actress Mackenzie) and wrote an unusually candid autobiography, “Papa John.”

In later years, he tried organizing a new Mamas and Papas group, which never achieved anything like the popularity of the original version.

Shortly before his death, it was reported that John had completed an album featuring all new material that was to be called “Slow Starter.” Another album, “Pay, Pack and Follow,” which he started 25 years before with Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, was to be released in May 2001.

Several of John’s children have gone on to achieve fame of their own. Mackenzie Phillips starred in the sitcom “One Day at a Time” in the 1970s until she was fired in 1982 because of cocaine addiction. She had seven stints in rehab over the next decade before declaring herself drug-free.

Another daughter, Chynna, was a member of the pop group Wilson Phillips with two daughter of Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson. A Third daughter, Bijou, appeared at age 15 in a controversial 1995 advertising campaign for clothing designer Calvin Klein that feature teen models in provocative poses. She is an actress.

John was married four times; to Susan Phillips, mother of Jeffrey and Mackenzie; to Michelle Phillips, mother of Chynna; to Geevieve Waite, mother of Tamerland and Bijou; and to his wife at the time of his death, Farnaz, to whom he’d been married for six years before his death.

John died of heart failure at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center on March 18, 2001. John left behind a wife, Farnaz; three daughters, Mackenzie, Chynna and Bijou; two sons, Jeffrey and Tamerlane; and two stepdaughters, Atoosa and Sanaz.

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