Phyllis Linda Hyman

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Phyllis Linda Hyman

Also Known As: "Diva", "Sophisticated Lady"
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA, USA
Death: Died in New York, NY, USA
Cause of death: Suicide by drug overdose
Managed by: Kenneth Kwame Welsh
Last Updated:

About Phyllis Linda Hyman

Phyllis Linda Hyman (July 6, 1949 – June 30, 1995) was an American soul singer and actress.

Early years

Phyllis Hyman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in the St. Clair Village, the South Hills section of Pittsburgh. Born to an an African American father and Italian mother, she was the eldest of seven children and a third cousin of Earle Hyman. After leaving Pittsburgh, her music training started with a scholarship to a music school. On graduation, she performed on a national tour with the group New Direction in 1971. After the group disbanded, she joined All the People and worked with another local group, The Hondo Beat. At this time, she appeared in the film Lenny (1974). She also did a two-year stint leading a band called Phyllis Hyman and the P/H Factor. Hyman was discovered in 1975 by internationally known pop artist and music industry veteran Sid Maurer, and former Epic Records promoter Fred Frank, and signed to their Roadshow Records/Desert Moon imprint.

Hyman moved to New York City to work on her reputation. She did background vocals on Jon Lucien's Premonition and worked in clubs. It was during one of these performances that she was spotted by Norman Connors, who offered her a spot as a vocalist on his album, You Are My Starship (1976). The duo scored on the R&B charts with a remake of The Stylistics' "Betcha by Golly Wow!".


Hyman sang with Pharoah Sanders and the Fatback Band while working on her first solo album, Phyllis Hyman, released in 1977 on the Buddah Records label. When Arista Records bought Buddha, she was transferred to that label. Her first album for Arista, Somewhere in My Lifetime, was released in 1978; the title track was produced by then-labelmate Barry Manilow. Her follow-up album, You Know How to Love Me, made the R&B Top 20 and also performed well on the club–dance charts. In the late 1970s, Hyman married her manager Larry Alexander (who is the brother of Jamaican pianist and melodica player Monty Alexander), but both the personal and professional associations ended in divorce. Around this time, Hyman began using cocaine, which led to a life-long dependency.

Hyman's first solo Top Ten hit came in 1981 with "Can't We Fall In Love Again", a duet with Michael Henderson. The song was recorded while she was performing in the Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies, a tribute to Duke Ellington. She performed in the role for almost two years, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and winning a Theatre World Award for Best Newcomer.

Problems between Hyman and her label, Arista, caused a pause in her recording career. She used the time to appear on movie soundtracks, television commercials and guest vocals, working with Chuck Mangione, The Whispers and The Four Tops. Hyman provided vocals for three tracks on jazz pianist McCoy Tyner's Looking Out (1982). She toured often and did a college lecture tour.

In 1983, Hyman recorded the song "Never Say Never Again" as the title song for the James Bond movie of the same name, written by Stephen Forsyth and Jim Ryan. However, Warner Brothers informed Forsyth that Michel Legrand, who wrote the score for the film, had threatened to sue them, claiming he contractually had the rights to the title song. An alternate title song composed by Legrand was eventually used for the film and performed by singer Lani Hall, formerly of Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66.

Free from Arista in 1985, she released the album, Living All Alone on Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International label the following year, capitalizing on the torch songs, "Old Friend" and the melancholy title track, as well as "You Just Don't Know" and "Screaming at the Moon". Shortly afterwards, she appeared in the films School Daze and The Kill Reflex. She would also continue to lend her voice to albums for other artists and musicians like Grover Washington, Jr. and Lonnie Liston Smith, while at the same time doing international tours.

Her next album, again on Philadelphia International, called Prime of My Life, released in 1991, was the biggest of her career. It included her first number one R&B hit as well as her first Billboard Top 100 hit, "Don't Wanna Change the World". The album provided two more top 10 R&B singles in "Living in Confusion" and "When You Get Right Down to It", and the less successful "I Found Love". Just over a year later, she appeared one last time on a Norman Connors album, singing the title song, "Remember Who You Are", which became a minor R&B hit. Prime of My Life has sold 454,000 copies to date. The album and debut single were both RIAA certified Gold in 1992.

Hyman's last album, I Refuse to Be Lonely, was a journey into her personal life. Both the title track and the single "I'm Truly Yours" became minor R&B hits.


On the afternoon of June 30, 1995, Hyman committed suicide by overdosing on pentobarbital and secobarbital in her New York City apartment.[1] She was found hours before she was scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theater.[2] Her suicide note read in part:

   "I'm tired. I'm tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.

She was 45 years old. A memorial service was held at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan. The following week would have been her 46th birthday.

DIVA. A reference made to a female performer (usually an opera singer). In the popular vernacular of the music business, particularly in black music circles, the term diva takes on a whole other meaning. It implies that a female artist is demanding, difficult, uncompromising, inflexible. It can also be considered a term of endearment, referring to the incredible talent they possess, making them a cut above the rest.

With so much media attention focussed on current would-be's, wanna-be's and has been's, it's rare to find any pertinent coverage (particularly in Canada) of the women who make up the backbone of today's R&B, Pop and Jazz fields. Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and a host of girl groups owe a tip of the hat to their predecessors, women who didn't glide so easily to the top of the charts, or at least with such frequency. Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carne, Marlena Shaw and Angela Bofill have all been recording for many years. Unlike Houston and Carey, however, these women's careers have progressed like quiet thunder, providing them with regular touring work but sporadic recording contracts.

PHYLLIS HYMAN (1949-1995) Devoted fans of the late singer Phyllis Hyman describe her as a songstress extraordinaire with a no-nonsense attitude, and a lavish, larger than life stage persona. Deep-voiced and statuesque, Phyllis sang with a life affirming energy and emotional intensity found in few other female vocalists. Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Philadelphia, her professional career began in New York city where, during an engagement, she was spotted by producer Norman Connors and contemporaries Jean Carne and Roberta Flack among others. Phyllis was immediately offered a guest appearance on Connors' You Are My Starship album, which included her rendition of Betcha By Golly Wow.

In 1977 Buddah Records released her self-titled debut LP which featured the hits Loving You/Losing You and I Don't Wanna Lose You. A year later Hyman was signed to Arista Records. Her premiere album for the label was Somewhere In My Lifetime, released on 1978. The title track (produced by then newcomer Barry Manilow, a longtime admirer of Hyman's) became Phyllis' first radio hit. A cover version of Exile's Kiss you All Over was remixed for club play as part of Arista's promotion, showcasing her versatility. The following year You Know How To Love Me hit the record stores, and the title track became one of Hyman's biggest dance anthems. She would include it in her repertoire until the time of her passing.

In 1981 Phyllis starred in the hit Broadway tribute to Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Ladies and continued in the role for two and a half years, garnering a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award for Best newcomer. The original cast recording was released by RCA and still remains a top seller on CD. While performing in Ladies, Phyllis cut her next album, Can't We Fall In Love Again (1981) featuring the title track, a duet with Michael Henderson. Phyllis was at the peak of her career at this period, was widely recognized as a New York celebrity. She was everywhere.

Goddess Of Love (1983) featured a sensational cover shot of Hyman at her most seductive, draped in a silver bugle beaded gown (which, according to Phyllis, weighed thirty pounds!) and sporting chandelier-sized earrings, a Hyman trademark. The recording, although containing two strong tracks, was patchy at best and Phyllis, discontented with the material chosen for this project was blunt about her feelings toward the record label and its cavalier attitude towards her. "Firstly, I came to the label because of the takeover of I didn't have much choice in the matter," she recalled. "There were some nice records, but I'd say I was pretty much overlooked and ignored." Ironically, the title Goddess of Love stuck with Phyllis as a term of endearment from both critics and fans.

Phyllis was left unrecorded for four years due to contractual discrepancies. It was during this time that a greatest hits package, entitled Under Her Spell (1989), was issued. She appeared on numerous albums as a guest vocalist, most notably with Chuck Mangione, Barry Manilow, The Whispers, and The Four Tops. Keeping in the public eye, Phyllis toured extensively with her band, did a college lecture tour, and lent her voice to several television commercials.

In 1987 she recorded Living All Alone for the resurgent Philadelphia International record label, released through Manhattan/EMI and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The release of the first single, Old Friend, brought Hyman back to the forefront of the industry with saturated radio play, international concert bookings, talk show appearances and countless magazine articles. Phyllis also had a cameo role in the Spike Lee film, School Daze (1988), performing the tune Be One, to which a video was later released. Other film appearances include Lenny (1976), Two Scared To Scream (1983) and a co-starring role with Fred Williamson in the action drama The Kill Reflex (1991).

Prime of My Life (1991, Zoo/BMG) was Phyllis' eagerly awaited follow up album after a four year lull, but was well worth the wait as she took an active role in selecting the material. While making the album, she agonized over a recent breakup. "It made the songs difficult to record, but the results were fabulous," Phyllis conceded. Don't Wanna Change The World was enthusiastically received by clubs and radio, attaining international status and becoming her first number one record according to Billboard. When the song's popularity soared, Zoo issued a remixed version to accommodate the demands of disk jockeys around the country.

In 1992 Phyllis was voted Number One Best Female Vocalist in the United Kingdom by Blues & Soul magazine readers, beating out the likes of Anita Baker, 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. Many patients requested Phyllis' presence, which left the singer feeling inadequate and perplexed as to their reasons for wanting to see her as opposed to a family member or friends. The visits took a heavier toll on Phyllis that 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 Hyman and those around her. In 1993 she was dealt another blow when both her mother and grandmother died within a month of one another.

Although Phyllis continued to record new material and perform live, her bouts of depression were clearly overwhelming her. Her irrational, self-destructive behavior was becoming common knowledge to those inside the music industry, her friends and also her fans and on June 30th, 1995, only hours before a scheduled performance at the Apollo Theatre in New York, Phyllis' lifeless body was found in her apartment where all efforts to revive her failed. Her suicide, while shocking, was not a surprise to many insiders. We, like so many others who know her, believed she would pull her life together. Sadly, we were mistaken.

In the posthumous released, I Refuse To Be Lonely (1995, Zoo/BMG), Phyllis alluded to her inner struggle on several songs, five of which she co-wrote. Her most intimate and emotional project yet, I Refuse To Be Lonely has reached the top 15 in Billboard's R&B chart, proving that talent of this caliber will always stand the test of time.

Her passing has left a void in the entertainment world, and in the hearts of many, including ourselves. Phyllis Hyman.our hero, our friend. We miss you.

Michael Grimaldi

This article originally appeared in the Toronto-based ICON MAGAZINE. Special thanks to Michael Grimaldi who wrote it and to Paul J. Tattersall who sent i.

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Phyllis Linda Hyman's Timeline

July 6, 1949
Philadelphia, PA, USA
June 30, 1995
Age 45
New York, NY, USA