Harvey Phillips was born Dec. 2, 1929, in rural Missouri and attended school in tiny Marionville. After graduating from high school, Phillips spent nine weeks with the King Brothers Circus Band and one semester at the University of Missouri before being asked to join the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus Band. He left that circus band in 1950 to study at the Juilliard School of Music at the invitation of New York Philharmonic Orchestra tubist William Bell.
Phillips played with numerous ensembles in New York, including the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet and the RCA Victor and Voice of Firestone orchestras. He co-founded the New York Brass Quintet and Orchestra U.S.A. From 1967 to 1971, he was vice president for financial affairs of the New England Conservatory of Music, headed by his friend Gunther Schuller. Phillips accepted an invitation from Dean Wilfred Bain to join the faculty at the Indiana University School of Music in the fall of 1971.
His honors included Principal Tuba, Circus Hall of Fame Band (selected by Merle Evans); Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service to Music Medal (1979); Association of Concert Bands "first" Mentor Ideal Award (1994); Sousa Foundation Sudler Medal of the Order of Merit award (1995); National Band Association Academy of Wind and Percussion Arts Award (1995); United Musical Instruments Lifetime Achievement Award (1996); American Bandmasters Association Edwin Franco Goldman Award (1996); Rafael Mendez Brass Institute Lifetime Achievement Award (1997); Colonial Euphonium-Tuba Institute Development of Musical Artistry & Opportunities Award (1997); Phi Mu Alpha Orpheus Award (1997); among others.
Harvey Phillips Day has been celebrated by the New England Conservatory (1971) and his hometown of Marionville, Mo. (1976). In 1985, the governor of Missouri declared a Harvey Phillips Weekend. Phillips received an honorary doctor of music degree (1971) from the New England Conservatory and an honorary doctor of humanities (1987) from the University of Missouri. In 2008, he was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. Phillips was the founder and president of the Harvey Phillips Foundation, which administers Octubafest, TubaChristmas, TubaCompany and TubaJazz.
In May 1994 he retired from IU with the title distinguished professor emeritus. Phillips died on Oct. 20, 2010.