More Than Words

Wintley Phipps captivates audiences with his voice and a special something beyond words.
Wintley Phipps stands by photos of presidents and icons he has met. Photo by Greg Hills

When Wintley Phipps was 7-years-old, he heard his voice on the radio. A member of the kids’ choir in Trinidad, Wintley had the chance to solo for a larger audience. The broadcast “was an indelible almost forecast of what my life would be like,” he says today from his home in Vero Beach, “that millions of people would be hearing me over the radio and on television. It was like I catalogued it as a little boy that this is something I need to carry with me because it means something.”

It was a prescient moment, as today Phipps has sung for the last six presidents of the United States, as well as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey. A YouTube video of his “Amazing Grace,” live from Carnegie Hall, has more than 15 million views. At 61 he still travels weekly to perform internationally. 

But Phipps isn’t so much a performer as he is a presence. He is at once ethereal and down-to-earth. He speaks in a low, resonant tone; but when he laughs, he just lets loose, stomping his foot, clapping his hands and giggling with glee. His smile literally beams, and it’s the focus of every photo he takes. He emanates a palpable energy that feels magnetic. It’s clear that he’s been called to move the masses.

But as a boy, prescient moment notwithstanding, he just wanted to sing like Sly Stone. When he saw a stoned Stone in concert, he changed his tune and found new voices to emulate. A child from a broken home, Phipps didn’t have music teachers or lessons available to him. After his voice changed during adolescence, he found his mentor on the airwaves.

Categories: Features