Phyllis Hyman…. The Somber Songtress With The Soulful Voice

 Phyllis Linda Hyman

July 6, 1949 — June 30, 1995

“Yes, I am alone. Yes, I’m on my own but for the first time in my life I’m going to carry on. Yes, I’m going to ache but I will not break. Some things I can choose and baby I refuse to be lonely” — Phyllis Hyman

Introduction : The Lady of a Legendary Voice

Anyone who has had the experience to hear Phyllis Hyman’s music  either on a record or in person at her concerts knows that Phyllis’s voice was uniquely special and like no other. She was a beautiful woman  who sang with so much pain it almost made you want to shed a tear. Every one of her songs read into the windows of your soul. Unlike some of the songstresses today, Phyllis personally lived her lyrics and single-handedly made the songs her own. Sadly, Phyllis had demons of her own to battle in life and we lost her a mere 17 years ago. A voice we came to know and love suddenly was gone forever. We are left with the sweet memories of her songs and scattered pictures of her smile and style. What really saddens me  is that a lot of people don’t know about Phyllis Hyman.  Once you hear her music, it would be hard for you to forget a woman with a legendary voice.

Early years of Phyllis Hyman

If you recently heard Monica’s song, Until It’s Gone then you heard Phyllis’s voice in the background.  The song is sampled by one of Phyllis’s songs titled I don’t want to lose you. Producer Missy Elliot said in an interview that she had to reach into a crate and pull out a goodie for the track.  She chose Phyllis Hyman because she admired Phyllis’s voice.

Phyllis Hyman was born on July 6, 1949 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the oldest out of seven children in her family. Throughout high school, Hyman worked her craft and entered into the music program. After high school,  she joined a band called For The People then she joined the band called the P/H factor. Shortly after high school, Hyman moved to New York and  performed in the club scene regularly. During one of her shows, Norman Connors, R&B crooner of the song You are my starship, saw Hyman and asked her to sing on his album.  In 1977, Hyman released  her first  album titled Phyllis Hyman  on Buddah Records  which later was renamed as Arista Records. The album included  tracks such as Loving you, Losing You, No One Can Love You More, and I Don’t Want To Lose You.  She released one more record under Buddah called Sing a Song which includes The Answer Is You and Be Careful (How You Treat My Love). Once, Arista Records took over under the leadership of record mogul Clive Davis, he wanted to broaden Hyman’s sound beyond R&B. Davis paired Hyman with songwriter Barry Manilow to produce the track Somewhere In My Lifetime for the same titled album.  Hyman decided to take charge of her career and performed on Broadway. She started in the play called Sophisticated Ladies a tribute to Duke Ellington.  Her decision  to do broadway  did not sit well with the record company. She released a couple more albums with Arista before the company dropped her. These albums were Goddess of Love, Somewhere In My Lifetime, You Know How To Love Me  and Can We Fall In Love Again.

Redefining Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman  was searching for a label and she found one. Hyman signed with PIR ( Philadelphia International Records) under the leadership of the legendary songwriters Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. Gamble and Huff are known in the music industry in producing hits and making stars like Teddy Pendergrass, O’Jays and even the Jacksons. Now signed with PIR, Hyman emerged with a new look and  sound. She began to wear stylish crowns(hats) with the plunging neck line outfits. Hyman released her first album with PIR titled Living All Alone. The title track  struck a chord with women everywhere. It became one of Hyman’s signature ballads. Hyman made the song her own as her vocals caressed the smooth jazz-like melody. Hyman was on an upward swing  appearing  on shows and in movies. She appeared in Spike Lee’s School Dayz. Hyman  was draped in all black with diamonds as she sung the classic ballad “Be One.” The next album that was released was titled Prime of My Life. It had two top 10 R&B his  such as Don’t Want To Change The World and Living In Confusion. The  album was certified gold in 1992.

The Uphill Battle Behind Closed Doors

Hyman was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder which is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings. She was on medication briefly to treat the mental illness but got off it.  Some of her close associates describe Hyman as difficult to work with at times.  She had financial problems in the late 90’s which led her to become addicted to food, drugs and alcohol.  She battled with these addictions in result caused her fluctuating weight gain and was lost in the public eye. Hyman openly admitted to not having a healthy personal life and tried to maintain a good relationship but was unsuccessful. She tried to handle these problems as much as she could. Until one faithful day , the pain became too much to bear.

Waiting For The Last Tear To Fall: Phyllis Final Act

Phyllis Hyman recorded her final album in 1995  titled I Refuse To Be Lonely.  On this album Hyman co-wrote some of the songs detailing the pain she was feeling at the time. She recently lost her mother and grandmother thus expressed in the song This Too Shall Pass Away. On June 30, 1995 , Hyman was  scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theater along with The Whispers. Unfortunately, she did not make it to the performance but was found unconscious in her hotel room. They rushed Hyman to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead. Phyllis Hyman was 45 years old and it happened the week before her 46th birthday.  She died of an apparent suicide by combination of pills. Those close  to her knew  that Phyllis wanted to take her own life. Her last album was released after her death.

Phyllis….what she means to me

I knew about Phyllis through my older sister. I remember looking at Video Soul  with Donnie Simpson when he announced her death. Afterwards, I began to listen to her music and getting to know the talented artist that she is. When  I listened to her final album, I was hooked to her music.  Every song I listened to seem like it closely related to every thing I felt or experienced in my life.  She was a very talented woman with a voice that was timeless. It pains me that the love from her fans could not sustain Hyman here on earth. I’m deeply saddened  to know that the music business  just swept her under the rug.  Phyllis’s songs touch on every level of emotion dealing with heartbreak and love experienced in any woman’s life. She had moaning and tearing sound in her voice because she had cried before.  So what can we learn from this tragedy? We can learn  how to encourage those who are battling with their  own demons. Don’t ignore them. Embrace them with love and support.  I think if Phyllis were alive today, she would have received the due credit for her hard work and she would have found true happiness. I miss her. I sometimes reflect what could have been.  It saddens me that the world may never know how talented and beautiful the incomparable Phyllis Hyman really is.

 

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