Monday, June 30, 2008
I can't think of a better way to end Black Music Month than to honor Phyllis Hyman. It's a bittersweet day because this is the anniversary of this beautiful, talented artists' death in 1995. I remember that day well. My friend Golde was helping me with some guitar chords and when I got to his house he told me of his friend's passing. We spent all morning talking about Phyllis. I had always loved her throaty sultry voice and emotionally intense style but Golde made it very personal for me with his remembrances, some very funny and some very sad.
Phyllis was in her early twenties when she went to New York City. She got work in NYC night clubs and formed her own band, The PH Factor in 1974. Her club work got her noticed by celebrities and producers like Norman Connors who gave her a guest cut on his You are My Starship album. It was her jazzy version of the Stylistics, You Betcha By Golly Wow.
In 1977, her self-titled debut LP featured the hits Loving You/Losing You and I Don't Wanna Lose You. In 1978, Somewhere In My Lifetime, was released. The title track was produced by Barry Manilow and became Phyllis' first solo radio hit. Then she did a cover version of Exile's, Kiss you All Over remixed for club play. The following year, the "You Know How To Love Me" album, hit the record stores and contained several fan favorites, but the title track became one of her biggest dance anthems. She would include it in her repertoire until the time of her passing.
Then in 1981, it was on to Broadway for the Duke Ellington Tribute, Sophisticated Ladies, for which Phyllis got a Tony nomination.
Phyllis Hyman released several more albums and appeared in movies including a co-starring role with Fred Williamson in The Kill Reflex in 1989. Her voice was featured on nationally heard jingles from Burger King, Red Lobster, American Airlines, Mastercard & Lysol to name but a few. And, she was the spokesperson for Fashion Fair cosmetics. Much of her time was spent on her two most important causes, AIDS and the plight of the homeless.
Phyllis struggled with bi-polar disorder and addictions. Today, being bipolar is more understood or should I say more out of the closet. Today, we've all heard of it and know that it is a complex condition. More is also known about management. But for Phyllis, no one especially celebs were on Oprah or The View discussing depression or offering guidance or hope. It had to be a lonely, hard struggle.
Her internal struggles led Phyllis Hyman to take her own life on June 30, 1995.
So especially today, I honor and remember her.
Phyllis was six foot one and even more with her heels (which she usually removed during performances) and her trademark hats. Sister could where the heck out of some hats.