Philip George Furia was born November 15, 1943 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Ethel Rose Szilagyi Furia and Philip Andrew Furia. He passed away April 3, 2019 in Wilmington, NC after a short stay in the hospital.
Phil became the Chair of the Department of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1996. During his tenure there, he was also the Director of the Film Studies Program, Chair of the Department of Creative Writing, and Interim Chair of the Department of Theatre. Most recently, he was a professor in the Department of Creative Writing. The current chair of the department, David Gessner, had these kind words to say:
“Phil was a prolific writer, a great teacher, a leader as chair of many departments here at UNCW, but what I will remember most is what a kind and gracious man he was. I knew him for fifteen years and can’t think of one disagreeable word between us. Which is not to say he sometimes didn’t disagree. If he hadn’t we likely would not have had a creative writing department, since he was both the chair of English, and a full supporter of our breaking away into our own department, at the start of this program’s existence. He was, quite simply, our founder.”
Phil Furia along with WHQR’s George Scheibner created over 300 Great American Songbook features for WHQR, which aired for several years. Phil also wrote and performed many live Great American Songbook themed shows, ranging from Johnny Mercer and Duke Ellington to Rodgers and Hart. These shows, which George Scheibner emceed, benefited WHQR. Over the years, George and Phil became friends, as George recounts:
“He was a great on-air talent to work with. He interviewed with Terry Gross (Fresh Air) and Larry King. At WHQR, we’d work after hours at the station, he would come in with scripts, we’d settle on music, and get a few songbook features done. For me, it was a glimpse into a musical era that I didn’t know very well. I grew up a rock ‘n roll kid and his expertise preceded that. Phil told me he got interested in the great songwriters when he was teaching a seminar in Germany and students were asking about the great songs, which inspired him to take a closer look at the lyrics. He gained a greater understanding for the complexity involved. Since he was a poetry professor, he was impressed by the care and intricacy in putting together a song. Internal rhymes and turns of phrase, you know. That changed his whole area of study. It gave him a whole new field of interest. And it was a pleasure to work with someone so well versed in in song book history.”
Phil is best known for his appearances and contributions on the Great American Songbook. His publications include:
· Pound's Cantos Declassified (1984)
· The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists (1992)
· Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist (1996)
· Irving Berlin: A Life in Song (1997)
· Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer (2004)
· America's Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley (2006), with Michael Lasser, host of Peabody Award-winning public radio program Fascinatin’ Rhythm
· The Songs of Hollywood, with Laurie J. Patterson (2010)
· The American Song Book: The Tin Pan Alley Era, with Laurie J. Patterson (2015)
Two memorial services are planned for later in the year. One will be in Wilmington, NC and the second will be in Westbrook, MN where he married Laurie at a family reunion in 1995. Donations may be made in his memory to the John and Leona Patterson Memorial Scholarship, Westbrook Walnut Grove High School, Westbrook MN 56183.