Phyllis Hyman delivered the Best Years of Her Life in Song
Phyllis Linda Hyman, better known as Phyllis Hyman, is one of my favorite singers from back in the day. Her silky and Jazz-infused voice was something captivating whenever I heard hits like “You Know How to Love Me,” “The Answer is You,” or “Magic Mona.” I tried to emulate her in every way that I could and failed miserably-time after time.
Philadelphia’s very own, Ms. Hyman was born on July 6, 1949, the eldest of seven, began her musical journey in the 70s. The influential producer, Norman Connors spotted her in New York City and this is when her professional singing career took flight. I can remember the album she featured on and the cover as if it was a brand new picture in time. The “You Are My Starship” album (1976) included her unforgettable version of “Betcha By Golly Wow,” which was also a hit for The Stylistics in the early 1970s. Ms. Hyman was signed to Arista Records in the late 70s where she recorded her premiere album, “Somewhere In My Lifetime” which was released in 1978. The following year, the James Mtume/Reggie Lucas duo -produced the “You Know How To Love Me” album, and the single became one of her biggest dance anthems.
Ms. Hyman was a very talented individual in her own right. She co-starred with Gregory Hines in the hit Broadway tribute to Duke Ellington “Sophisticated Ladies”, School Daze (1988), Too Scared to Scream (1984) and a co-starring role with Fred Williamson in the action drama The Kill Reflex (1989). During that time, Phyllis released her next album, “Can’t We Fall In Love Again” (1981) with the title track a duet with Michael Henderson.
Phyllis, Is this where it all began?
After many unsuccessful recordings. she didn’t record for four years due to contractual discrepancies with Arista. This kept her legally bound to the Clive Davis-owned company hindering her to signing with another company. It is fair to say that this could have been the moment when her depression cycle began.
Around the mid-time of 1985, she had been released from her former label and she recorded the classic “Living All Alone” album for the ‘Philadelphia International’ record label. The first single, “Old Friend”, brought her back to the forefront of the industry with saturated radio play, international concert bookings, talk-show appearances, and countless magazine articles.
In 1992, Phyllis Hyman was voted Number One Best Female Vocalist in the United Kingdom by Blues & Soul magazine readers, beating out the likes of Anita Baker, along with the late greats – Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. During this time, Phyllis became involved in combating the AIDS crisis by lending her voice to countless benefit shows and visiting wards and hospices in and around New York. The visits took a heavier toll on Phyllis than she realized. By now, her own personal problems were becoming evident. An ongoing battle with alcohol and weight gain, combined with career and financial woes, were making life difficult for her and those around her. In 1993, she was dealt another blow, when both her mother and grandmother died within a month of one another.
Around May of 1995, I had the pleasure of hearing her sing at the Arie Crown Theatre. She was on a Jazz tour with Norman Connors, Jean Carn, and other Jazz greats. Her barefoot performance was filled with big earrings, sadness, and great songs. She cried so much while performing her songs and gave us a heartfelt story before she exited the stage. Even though, Jean Carn soothed us with “Don’t Let it Go to Your Head,” I knew something was wrong with one of my favorite singers and I wasn’t the only one.
On June 30, 1995, I was heartbroken to hear via Chicago radio that only hours before a scheduled performance at the Apollo Theater in New York, Phyllis’ lifeless body was found in her apartment. She had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and left a suicide note. This news stunned the entire world and left people wondering why would a talented person take their life. I, too, wondered the same thing about the situation and tried to come up with my own reasoning. None of us will ever know why Ms. Hyman chose to end her life but I will continue her legacy on by listening to her timeless music.
In closing, I want to say, If you know someone that has a mental health issue or has the characteristics, give them a listening ear or a hug. There may be another ‘Phyllis Hyman’ out there, who may be having a problem with living all alone. You may be that old friend that can breathe life into them once again.
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