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George M. Phillips Jr., substance abuse counselor and vocalist in ’80s pop group Starpoint, dies

George Phillips Jr. received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the New York College of Health Professions.
George Phillips Jr. received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the New York College of Health Professions. (Family Photo/Handout)

George McKenzie Phillips Jr., a retired professional musician and health care administrator who was lead vocalist with the rhythm and blues funk band Starpoint, died of sepsis Feb. 3 at the University of Maryland Howard County Medical Center. He was 68 and lived in Columbia.

Born in Washington, D.C., he was the son of Dr. George McKenzie Phillips Sr., who was then studying medicine at Howard University, and his wife, Ana Pearl, a Library of Congress worker who was later active in the Community Action Agency of Anne Arundel County and a University of Maryland Department of Surgery secretary.

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He attended Crownsville-area schools before graduating from Arundel High School, where he played the French horn in the concert orchestra. He studied at Anne Arundel Community College and at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

As a young man he formed a musical group with his brothers and friends.

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“We started practicing together in the basement in Crownsville,” said his brother, Muhammed McKenzie Phillips of Columbia. “We would have daily practice and formed a band called J R and The Royals. We played at high schools, community colleges, Howard University, nightclubs and dances. We played other people’s music — Aretha Franklin, Mandrill, Earth Wind & Fire.”

The group later became Licyndiana, named after Mr. Phillips’ mother and sisters. It was a six-piece ensemble that made local appearances, including summertime gigs at Sandy Point.

He was a member and lead vocalist of Starpoint, a rhythm-and-blues group that evolved after he became more involved in the music industry. In 1979 Starpoint won a national recording contract and released its album “Starpoint!” in 1980. “I Just Wanna Dance with You,” one of the cuts on the album, became a hit.

The family group included three of his brothers. Their biggest hit became a gold record, “Object of My Desire,” which came out in 1985.

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His brother also said, “My brother George was the leader and played piano. He was a great singer too. The crowds really took to him.”

Another brother, Gregory McKenzie Phillips, a Bowie resident, said, “He was an extremely good vocalist and keyboard player. When he was younger he played the trumpet. We had a musical family so we influenced each other.”

The Phillips brothers played at the Capital Centre, Carter Barron Amphitheater in Washington, D.C., and at Madison Square Garden and the Apollo Theatre in New York. They had three appearances on “Soul Train.”

“We have 10 albums, and the No. 7, “Restless,” went gold, sold more than 600,000 copies,” said Gregory Phillips.

He said Starpoint toured with the Isley Brothers, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Luther Vandross, Morris Day and the Time, the O’Jays, the Pointer Sisters and Kool & the Gang.

The group recorded on the Motown label.

Mr. Phillips traveled overseas to France and England in 2011.

Later in his career, Mr. Phillips became a program manager for Community Treatment Services for the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. He retired in 2018.

“He was strong and determined did not give up. He did not believe in excuses,” said his sister, Diane Phillips LaGuerre of Columbia. “He believed that everyone had a chance to do well. He was well organized and started work early in the morning. Once he was involved in something, he was all in.”

She also said, “As a result of his unrelenting efforts, he became a cherished and respected member of the community.”

Sandra O’Neill, director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Health’s Behavioral Health Bureau, said in a statement, “George was well known in the Anne Arundel County behavioral health field. He was an advocate for a system of care that met the needs of some of the most vulnerable residents, and he strove to create a recovery-oriented system (ROSC) of care.”

She also said, “ His work established the ROSC Change Agent Team (now known as Recovery Anne Arundel), and George was a driving force in the recognition of Recovery Month, September, in the county.”

Among professional rewards, Mr. Phillips received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the New York College of Health Professions in 2014 for “for his work of being a powerful voice for the underrepresented and marginalized.”

“Of all of the beautiful things in George’s life, one of the most beautiful and unmatched was his character and sense of purpose. George McKenzie Phillips Jr. lived a fruitful and wonderful life,” said his sister.

His ashes were placed in the Hillcrest Mausoleum in Annapolis.

In addition to his sister and brothers, survivors include his wife of many years, Gayla Phillips, an Anne Arundel Community College events planner; a son, George McKenzie Phillips III of Baltimore; a daughter, Geva Phillips of Texas; his mother, Ana Pearl Phillips of Columbia; another brother, Orlando Phillips of Annapolis; another sister, Lisa Phillips of Bowie; and two grandchildren.

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