Folsom Funeral Service

Phillips, Ellis L. III

Phillips, Ellis

Ellis Laurimore Phillips III (Larry), 70, of Boston, died peacefully at Tufts Medical Center on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, from complications of Type 1 diabetes. He was a harpsichordist and organist, composer, music critic, and philanthropist.

A memorial service celebrating Larry’s life will be held on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at 1PM at the First Church in Boston, 66 Marlborough Street.

Larry Phillips’ professional music career spanned over four decades. Larry entered the international music competition world winning prizes from the Royal Canadian College of Organists in 1972 and the International Harpsichord Competition in Brughes, Belgium in 1974. Early recognition led to his signing with music agent Albert Kay Associates in New York City, in 1976. This launched his national touring career performing as an organist and harpsichordist, making a valuable contribution to the Early Music revival of the 1970s. He commissioned three harpsichords to be built from harpsichord makers Donald Katz and William Post Ross and toured with them across the country giving concerts and educational presentations of early music and harpsichord performance. His representation with Albert Kay lasted until 2002. His performance record included dozens of solo performances and featured soloist with the Wichita Symphony orchestra, and the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra.

Together with Bici Pettit and Douglas Worthen, Larry Phillips formed the musical trio, Quantz, an Early Music and Baroque ensemble. He was Artistic Director and founder of the Festival Music Players, a Boston-area chamber music sponsoring organization.  Larry Phillips composed the motet, “All Shall be Well” for the Commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the foundation of Saint Botolph’s Church, Boston, Lincolnshire by HRH Princess Anne in 2008. Three of Larry Phillips’ hymns were published in the Unitarian Universalist Hymnbook, Singing The Living Tradition including Hymn #130 “O Liberating Rose” which receives continued popularity among choral groups throughout Unitarian Universalist congregations. Larry arranged dozens of commemorative pieces and premiered composers’ works.

Larry Phillips was the Music Director for the First Parish Church, Waltham, MA, from 1982-2002, where he was church organist and much beloved choir director. Larry served as the co-founder and director/clerk of record of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network.  Larry was also editor, with Leo Collins and Judy Green, of the Signature Choral Series, which published more than 75 hymns, songs and liturgical pieces through the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Always innovative in his use of the latest technology, Larry Phillips was among the first to use digital music editing.  Larry gave countless workshops at the UUMN annual conferences where he taught digital music editing. He was a member of the group engaged to research, evaluate, and edit The Unitarian Universalist Association Hymn Book, and later, the Middlesex School Hymn Book.

Larry Phillips’ music and philanthropic careers overlapped in many ways.  Larry’s alumni activities at New England Conservatory of Music included serving as a member of the Board of Trustees (1993-2002), President of the Alumni Association (1986-1990), Overseer (2002-2008), and Lifetime Overseer from 2008. New England Conservatory of Music recognized Larry Phillips’ “service to the advancement of NEC’s mission to ensure that music has a central place in contemporary society” by awarding him the Florence A. Dunn Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in 2010.

The son of Ellis L. Phillips, Jr. and Marion E. Grumman, Larry was born in Rosyln Heights, New York and lived his first nine years on Long Island. He attended the Green Vale School. His family moved to London in 1957 when his father was appointed Special Assistant to Ambassador John Hay Whitney. While in England, Larry attended the Eaton House School, London where he excelled in track and field competitions winning five awards in the 100 yard, 200 yard, 320 yard, relay race, and high jump competitions. Returning to the United States, Larry prepared at Deerfield Academy, class of 1966, where his talents as a musician and editor were recognized early.  He was the managing editor of the Deerfield Scroll and performed in many school musical and theatrical productions. He often recalled how Deerfield recognized and supported his desire to study music by one day quietly presenting him with the keys to the chapel so he could practice the organ.

Larry graduated from Harvard University, class of 1970, where he earned his AB cum laude majoring in French while concurrently studying music at the Longy School of Music. As an undergraduate he studied music with Luise Vozcherchian. After Harvard he earned advanced degrees in music from the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal where he earned the Certificat D’Etudes en Disciplines Théoriques and he won the John Robb Organ Competition in 1972.  In 1975 he completed a Master of Music from New England Conservatory of Music, concentrating in harpsichord performance.  His professional training included study of organ performance with Bernard Lagace.

Ellis L. Phillips III’s grandfathers were Ellis L. Phillips and Leroy Grumman. Larry’s career in music departed from his family’s contributions in electrical engineering and aviation. A biography published during his musical touring days notes he was acutely aware that a career in music would be a dramatic change from following one of the family legacies.

In 1992, Larry became the third president of the Ellis L. Phillips Foundation. Through the foundation and his own personal philanthropy he contributed much to his local and national community awarding dozens of grants to New England area arts and music non-profits and educational institutions.

Living with Type 1 juvenile diabetes, Larry Phillips was proud to have received the Joslin Diabetes Center 50th survivor metal in 2010.  Eventually the struggle with diabetes brought his performing career to an end, opening the door for him to become a music critic for the Boston Musical Intelligencer, a position that he held from 2008 until the spring of 2012. He published the 5th most reviews for the magazine to that date.

Larry was a founding member of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in 1996 and served as its Chairman and then later Chairman Emeritus. He was a founding member of the Partnership of the Historic Bostons and served on the board of trustees with several terms as vice-president, from 2001-2018.

A quiet and effective advocate for LGBT rights, Larry was one of the signers of the petition of alumni, students, faculty, and staff at Harvard in 1984 that changed the university’s antidiscrimination clause to include sexual orientation, making Harvard the first university in the country to take this step. He was a founding member of the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus and was on the Board of the Open Gate. In 1987, Larry recruited his friend Richard Schneider to edit The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Newsletter, which gave rise to the bimonthly national magazine The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.

Family and friends recall Larry’s love of playing 4-hand piano. He composed dozens of fanfares and musical tributes to commemorate family occasions and musical evenings. He lived with a sense of purpose and urgency fully engaged in his community and always sought to contribute positively.

Throughout his life, Ellis L. Phillips III met the challenges that come with a successful music career, while living with Type 1 diabetes. His family and friends remember him for his engaging personality, infectious laugh and smile, and courageous and ebullient character.

Beloved husband and partner for 31 years of artist David Lloyd Brown of Boston, Larry also leaves behind his sisters Valerie P. Parsegian and her husband V. Adrian Parsegian of Amherst, MA; Elise P. Watts and her husband Edward E. Watts III of Dedham, MA; Kathryn N. Phillips of Hudson, NY; and Cynthia L. Phillips of Rhinebeck, NY; and his uncle David Leroy Grumman of Chicago, IL. He is also survived by 9 nieces and nephews and their children.

Donations may be made in Larry’s name to the Tufts Medical Center Development Office, 800 Washington Street, #231, Boston MA 02111, or online at, and the Joslin Diabetes Center, 1 Joslyn Place, Suite 745, Boston, MA 02215 or online at

Guestbook Entries

  1. Andrew Phillips Parsegian
    November 3rd, 2018 | 2:00 pm

    Larry was always a very supportive Uncle to me. He’d invite me to visit him in Boston when I was a kid, and would make time to visit me whenever he was in New York. We really enjoyed our time together. I am very grateful for him, and all he’s given me.
    – Andrew Phillips Parsegian

  2. Betsy Kirk
    November 3rd, 2018 | 3:34 pm

    Larry had so many gifts: intelligence, musical talent, and a wonderful sense of humor. Perhaps his greatest gift was his ability to form meaningful and lasting friendships. He has been my friend since we were three years old and has been an important part of my life ever since. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to his partner, David Brown, his sisters-Valerie, Elise, Noel, snd Cindy and their families. We have all lost a very special man.

  3. Ruth Ziony
    November 6th, 2018 | 8:24 pm

    Larry was indeed a very special person;I first met him more than 50 years ago and his sister Val has always kept me posted
    on his many wonderful accomplishments, his special gifts, and more than words can convey at this time. His musical
    talent was a true gift . I send my sympathy to all of his sisters and to his partner, David.

  4. Theresa B. Inman
    November 9th, 2018 | 9:38 am

    I loved Larry and he was a great partner for my brother, David. Larry’s talents made this world a more beautiful place. He will be missed and remembered with much love.

  5. November 13th, 2018 | 10:06 am

    I will miss my brother’s explosive laugh which made all around him
    burst out laughing almost always.

    As kids and older we would play duets together, listen to Bach Cantatas together when
    I was with him. We had some philosophic talks as young
    adults in college and beyond about Music, Life, the Spirit.

    I will cherish these memories of my brother Larry Phillips.
    David was the best spouse for our brother and we all
    love him too.
    Much love. Noel

  6. November 19th, 2018 | 8:21 pm

    Dear David,
    So sorry to hear of your loss. What a remarkable life he had and what a lucky man to have found someone like you who loved and dedicated himself to caring for him these last few years.
    My condolences to you and his family, may his memory be a blessing.
    Beverly Sky

  7. November 19th, 2018 | 9:19 pm

    Larry generously donated one of his harpsichords to First Parish UU in Waltham after stepping down as music director, and he made a special trip to Waltham to be sure that parishioners could tune and adjust it successfully. The harpsichord will be in use at the church service on Sunday, December 9. Not without poignancy.

  8. Cynthia Phillips
    November 22nd, 2018 | 11:41 pm

    Here is the transcription of a lovely tribute from Betty Gordon, which she read aloud over the phone:

    “Larry and I had a special bond. We were born February 2nd – Groundhog’s Day! I called him every year on “Our Day”, until he could no longer use the telephone. I love thinking back over the years when Larry was a teenager. He was an excellent student, very popular, and an outstanding athlete. He won many prizes at Geeen Vale, and loved being part of the team. We were all pleased when David came into Larry’s life. This marriage is a Godsend and we are grateful.”

  9. February 17th, 2021 | 2:51 pm

    I’m sorry I’m just reading this now. My deepest condolences to David and the family. Larry was a joy to see in the audience. I never feared his reviews because even a bad one was somehow still encouraging. His presence and enthusiasm will be missed.

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Folsom Funeral Service

Folsom Funeral Service