Leslie Phillips: Hands that Hold the Hourglass

updated: October 17, 2001

"The pressure on Christian artists is incredible. We expect them to be our heroes, to exemplify Christianity, and to do what we can't do," said singer-songwriter Leslie Phillips, over ten years ago in a CCM Magazine interview. Since then, she has left the Christian music industry to never return. We have lost a Christian rock artist who is as inspirational, that you would hear her songs in any regular church. Ten years after her departure, her last original album on Myrrh, The Turning started to pop up in top Christian albums lists everywhere. In retrospect, people have realized that she was ahead of her time and one of the most remarkable and original voices in the history of Christian music or CCM. But regarding The Turning at the time of the release, Sam said, "Not only did they think I was a heretic, but they weren't ready for that kind of music."

I have heard various opinions on Leslie's current spiritual situation. You can read the secular lyrics she wrote while under the moniker of Sam Phillips. They can lead you to believe she ponders God still, while simultaneously these lyrics can make Leslie seem as if she is wrapped up in the cares of this world and has not forgotten, but rejected God. How can one who you feel knows the grace of God, reject it?

If she considered the thought of rejecting God, it didn't happen overnight. Maybe she had been thinking about this to herself when she wrote "my fear is to leave here never having really arrived" in her song, "Beating Heart" on The Turning, rated by CCM Magazine as one of the ten best Christian albums of all time.

November 12, 2001, she will participate in a benefit in Minneapolis for the Gyuto Tibetan Monastery. Ever since 9/11/2001, people have been reaching out to other religions, trying to find out why they think the way they do. Some Christians might be catious in actually supporting them. However, whatever it look like at first glance requires a deeper look. Her interest in eastern thought stems from reading Thomas Merton who discussed parallels between Buddhism and Christianity, in his book Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

Lots of Christian music articles or editorials convince you that she has rejected God [1]. On the Internet at About.Com, their "Missing in Action" database claims that she has "virtually renounced Christianity." T-Bone Burnett on the other hand, her husband and a recent participant on her Internet mailing list, identifies her as "a lover of Christ."

So you can decide for yourself. But it seems that jumping to conclusions is not the smartest idea. Upon the rerelease of The Turning, Leslie's last full-length Christian record gone out of print, CCM Magazine tried to contact her for comment to no avail. It is clear and certain that she definitely does not want to be identified with Christian music. This statement infers that Christian music does not wholly represent all who are Christians in the best way.

So is that part of the reason why she left Christian music? It seems that her nickname was Sam, but the Christian record company wanted her to be named Leslie, her real name, because it was more feminine. She says, "Sam was a nickname, but the reason for the name change was that I was unhappy with most of the records I made at Word. I was just learning to play and write when I signed that deal. To me, those records are kind of like pictures in junior high school, not very attractive. I wanted to start over and earn the trust of an audience; I wanted to grow as an artist." (Weekend Post, August 4, 2001)

Why did she leave? After her third album, she was incredibly popular, but described the kind of music she felt her record company wanted her to put out as "propaganda". She also wanted to explore other subjects. Myrrh of course wouldn't let her, so she recorded The Turning and they released a best-of record for her Christian fans.

After recording four records and putting out a best of collection on Virgin Records, she began recording for Nonesuch. FanDance was released in July 2001.

[1] Focus on the Family's Breakaway magazine had an issue around 1994 or 1995 in which they made it sound like Leslie could not be a Christian, because she participated in the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance as a woman who brutally murders a guard at the Federal Reserve.


Married to: T-Bone Burnett (producer & artist)

Birthdate: January 28, 1962 (she's 39 now)

Hair color: Blond

Eye color: Hazel

Inspiring authors: Ogden Nash, S. J. Perelman, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Pablo Neruda

Quote from the '80s: "Just because I do Christian rock, that doesn't mean I eat nails for breakfast." Quote from the '90s: "One of the things that I love most about art is juxtaposition and contradiction. I think that's what life is all about. When you get into matters of the soul - and that's where music comes from - I think it gets more complicated." Star Tribune: July 8, 1994

  • Beyond Sat. Night - 1983
  • Dancing With Danger - 1984
  • Black and White in a Grey World - 1985
  • The Turning - 1987
  • Recollection - 1987
    as Sam:
  • The Indescribable Wow -1988
  • Cruel Inventions - 1991
  • Martinis & Bikinis - 1994
  • Omnipop - 1996
  • 000 - 1999
  • FanDance - 2001

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