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Phil Collins to receive McMurry honorary doctorate

Contributed photo Singer Phil Collins holds a musket from the Battle of San Jacinto Contributed photo Singer Phil Collins holds a musket from the Battle of San Jacinto

The email came out of nowhere in the summer of 2010.

"This is Phil Collins, the drummer, just an average bloke who likes history. I understand you're the go-to guy on Texas history."

Don Frazier, McMurry University history professor, responded and soon began an email exchange with the famous British musician, known for his Grammy-winning solo work and with Genesis. The correspondence led to Collins writing a book released last week by Buffalo Gap-based State House Press and being selected to receive a honorary doctorate in May from McMurry.

Collins' intense interest in Texas history prompted him to contact Frazier, president and CEO of the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation. The foundation owns State House Press, publisher of three books on the Alamo that Collins owns.

"He is an avid Alamo artifact collector," said Frazier of Collins. "He has amassed a huge collection of artifacts and documents that relate to the Alamo and Texas revolution. He was being convinced by some folks that he really needed to do a book about that.

"He was told that if he wanted to do Texas history that the people to work with were State House Press in Buffalo Gap and that the Texas historians that work in McMurry University are the most knowledgeable on earth," he added. "He could've gone anywhere and he chose here."

The 61-year-old musician spent a few days in Buffalo Gap at State House in January 2011. To complete the project, Frazier flew to Collins' Switzerland home in June.

"What's amazing is you go to his house and it's got a great view of the Alps and Lake Geneva," said Frazier. "You go down in his basement and you're surrounded by Texas revolution artifacts and go another direction you're looking at platinum records, Grammy Awards and photos of him with Pete Townshend, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney. It's surreal."

Frazier's efforts, along with fellow McMurry University history professor Stephen L. Hardin, contributed to Collins being able to have his first book published titled "The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector's Journey." State House released the 416-page book — which includes 250 color photos and previously unseen documents and artifacts — on March 15. A cloth-with-dust-jacket version sells for $120 and a limited-edition, numbered and signed version is offered for $200. The book also sells for $75.60 on Amazon.

"These images are so crisp, I have actually held some of these artifacts in my hand and you can see some of these artifacts better in these photos because of the lighting than if you were holding it," said Hardin, who has worked three years at McMurry. "When you see the images in the book you will know why the book is so expensive. High-definition photography is expensive to reproduce. It's well bound, it's on slick paper. Think of your Time-Life books times five."

According to the book's trailer available on YouTube, Collins said, "The State House (Press) has been very, very good to me. Don Frazier, Steve Hardin and Claudia (Frigo) and the people I've met that I've been working with have all been very enthusiastic and very helpful and I probably would've been able to do this without a company that was sympathetic to that kind of direction."

According to the book trailer, Collins said his passion for Texas and Alamo history was sparked as a child after watching the Disney movie "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier." While on tour with Genesis' in 1986, he viewed artifacts in Washington, D.C., and saw a letter signed by Crockett that captured his imagination.

"He's been collecting this stuff for more than 20 years," Hardin said of Collins. "He hasn't just come to the party."

Both Hardin and Frazier said they were impressed with Collins and his down-to-earth demeanor.

"He's the third-largest grossing performing artist in human history," Frazier said. "He's scored movies, plays, he's scored other people's music and, on top of that, he knows an awful lot about Jim Bowie's knives. What's really cool for me as an educator that's the kind of intellect you want to put in front of your students because this guy's life has pushed boundaries in every direction."

In addition to receiving an honorary doctorate at spring commencement May 12, Collins will be in Abilene the day before to speak at a fundraiser for McMurry history scholarships.

However, Frazier said, the likelihood of Collins playing a concert in Abilene was remote.

"He is done with music," Frazier said. "I mean, this is Phil Collins, the historian. If someone can convince him to do (a concert), that would be swell."

© Abilene Reporter-News, by Ethan Fowler

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