Phillips, Henry Bettesworth (‘H. B.’) (1866–1950), concert impresario, music shop proprietor, and owner of the Carl Rosa Opera Company, was born 23 December 1866 in Athy, Co. Kildare. Known by his business colleagues as ‘H. B.’ and by his family as Harry, he was the eldest son and the second of eight surviving children of Henry St John Phillips (1836–79), a stationmaster, of Fethard, Co. Tipperary. His mother was Jane, daughter of William Jervis Lawless (1803–83), a jeweller, and his wife, Jane (1804–62), from Kilkenny.
Within six months of his father's death the family moved from Kilkenny to Derry, and Phillips became a chorister in St Columb's Church of Ireland cathedral under the Dublin-born organist Dr Daniel C. Jones. On 6 September 1879 he was enrolled at Foyle College, where he remained a pupil until 1882. He then served a piano tuning apprenticeship with a local music firm, which was followed by a brief period with a London piano company. By 1891 Phillips had returned to Derry and opened his first music shop at his home address, at 1 Marlborough Street. In 1895 he acquired additional premises at Union Buildings, at the lower end of Shipquay Street, where he specialised in the sale of sheet music, pianos, harmoniums, organs, vocalions, and early types of gramophone equipment. By 1900 he had moved premises yet again, to more spacious accommodation at 30 Shipquay Street.
Phillips's early career as an impresario was meteoric, beginning on 8 October 1891 with a concert in Derry's Guildhall with the Hungarian violin virtuoso Tivadar Nachez. Thereafter, between 1892 and 1914, he promoted concerts throughout Ireland in two overlapping strands: the Phillips’ Subscription Concerts and the Phillips’ Dublin, Belfast and Irish Provincial Concerts, the programme covers of which listed eighteen Irish towns as venues. By 1905 Phillips had engaged well-known artists such as Clara Butt, Madame Albani, and Barton McGuckin (qv), and was organising concerts in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, and the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as well as in Cork and in smaller seaside towns and provincial centres. The five seasons of concerts in Belfast between 1909 and 1914 attracted the celebrated musical performers of the Edwardian era: Fritz Kreisler, Hans Richter, Hamilton Harty (qv) and the Hallé Orchestra, Thomas Beecham and his symphony orchestra, Busoni, John McCormack (qv), and Edward Sousa and his band. Phillips even persuaded Enrico Caruso to perform in Belfast on 15 September 1909 as part of the singer's tour of Britain and Ireland.
Tickets for the Belfast concerts were sold at Phillips's second music shop at 2–4 Bedford Street, which had opened in 1907. Both this extensive shop, which straddled a corner of Donegall Square, and the Derry premises traded under the name ‘Beethoven House’. Phillips had additional music business interests: he advertised the Beethoven House Orchestra for concerts, seaside entertainments, and social functions, and the Derry shop had a studio at the rear where local music teachers gave piano tuition. Between 1896 and 1903 he also took ownership of the Derry Opera House in Carlisle Road, where he promoted seasons of drama, opera, pantomime, and concerts. But by 1912, while still engaged in concert promotion in Ireland, Phillips had moved to London and embarked upon a new direction in his career. He became general manager of the Quinlan Opera Company, which had been founded by Sir Joseph Beecham, father of Thomas Beecham; he was also involved in management of the Thomas Beecham Symphony Orchestra. At this time his London address was 17 Orchard Street, Portman Square. In 1916 Phillips left Beecham's employ and set up his own opera company. However, in 1918 this venture faced bankruptcy, and it was subsequently bought by the Carl Rosa Opera Company, but with Phillips employed as artistic director of the amalgamated companies. When the Carl Rosa Company itself approached bankruptcy in 1923, Phillips bought the opera troupe and continued to run it until his death in 1950. Without public subsidy, he toured the company throughout Britain and Ireland for twenty-eight years, presenting a wide operatic repertoire and establishing the ‘Carl Rosa’ as one of the stalwarts of British musical life.
In 1903 Phillips married Annette (Nettie) (1880–1969), daughter of Henry Prior, the proprietor of a chemist's shop at 7 Ferryquay Street, Derry. Successive generations of the Prior family had been amateur musicians in the city since the 1840s. Nettie had studied piano and harmony at the Royal College of Music in London, being awarded a licentiate (LRAM) in 1900. As a talented pianist, she had provided piano accompaniment at her husband's earlier concerts in Belfast and Derry. There were two children of the marriage: Ailne (Babs) (1905–92) and Ian Henry (Peter) (1914–2000), an engineer. Babs was a dancer with the Carl Rosa Company during the 1920s, but from 1931 was one of the first six ballerinas to form the new Vic–Wells Opera Ballet at Sadler's Wells Theatre, later the Royal Ballet Company. With her close friend and associate Dame Ninette de Valois (qv), Babs Phillips taught dancing at the Covent Garden Ballet School from 1942 onwards.
In 1948 Phillips was awarded the CBE in the king's birthday honours list. He died 19 March 1950 at Kensington, London; his funeral was at Golders Green crematorium on 24 March. He left £8,000 in his will.
After Phillips's death his widow continued to run the Carl Rosa Company until 1957, but in spite of financial assistance from the Arts Council of England it finally collapsed in September 1960 against a background of mounting touring costs. In 1957 the Carl Rosa Opera Trust had been formed in conjunction with the Arts Council to provide scholarships and training for talented opera singers. In 1998, after a gap of almost forty years, the Carl Rosa Opera Company was revived, with Dame Kiri de Kanawa as an honorary patron. Phillips's Belfast music shop closed in 1914 but the music shop in Derry remained open as a family business until 1980.
A plaque has been erected on the south wall in St Paul's church, Covent Garden, in memory of H. B. and Nettie Phillips and in recognition of their services to opera and musical life in Britain.