Lost Ones

This is the beginning of a new mini-series, dedicated to afrobellas who we’ve lost along the way.

So many of our celebrities have had tragic lives. So many of them have struggled to shoulder the weight of fame and come up against an industry that doesn’t seem designed to truly support and celebrate black artists. Some of these women have had rough childhoods, and many of them have battled substance abuse and depression. All of them are remarkably talented, and their legacies should never be forgotten.

Phyllis Hyman was an undeniable showstopper.

She was six feet tall, jaw droppingly gorgeous, with glowing caramel colored skin and a passion for fashion. And her voice was like warm butter.

As Jean Carne says in this article on Black America Web,

“If you close your eyes and listen to her voice, you would think of chinchilla and mink and diamond and pearls. She had a gorgeous tonal quality.”

Her late-Seventies hits like “Somewhere in my Lifetime” and You Know How to Love Me are among the era’s most perfect tracks, in my opinion.

She earned the nickname The Sophisticated Lady after her electrifying performance in Broadway’s electrifying tribute to Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Ladies. Watch Phyllis rip through “It Don’t Mean a Thing If You Ain’t Got That Swing if you want to learn a thing or two about stage presence.

Remember when BET was totally off the cuff and real? Check out this completely random clip of Phyllis Hyman delivering a bouquet of roses to Patti LaBelle, mid-interview with Donnie Simpson on the old-skool Video Soul set (complete with elevator, mind you). Phyllis came across as a sweet, self-effacing diva with an effortlessly enormous voice.

Listen to her range on this frustratingly truncated BET memorial video. Phyllis brought the quiet storm without even trying on this awards show duet version of Superwoman with Melba Moore. (I always loved Karyn White’s version of that song, BTW. Oh, the video is so Eighties. I love it!).

She had a signature style, and was known for wearing ornate, flowing garments and chandelier earrings. Nobody rocked a hat like Phyllis Hyman did — check out her signature headwear here on this 1992 clip from the Arsenio Hall Show. “When You Get Right Down To It” is one of my favorite songs of hers, and it’s from the tragically titled album Prime of My Life.

In this interview in 1991, she seemed so optimistic. Phyllis Hyman’s life took a tragic turn in 1993, when she lost her mother and grandmother within the span of a month.

She released her final album, I Refuse to Be Lonely, in 1995. I have never heard any of it, but I imagine it’s pretty dark stuff. All of the song titles reveal her pain. “Waiting for the Last Tear to Fall.” “This Too Shall Pass.” “Back to Paradise.” “Give Me One Good Reason to Stay.” By this point she was dealing with bipolar disorder, depression, alcoholism, and financial strife.

Hours before she was scheduled to perform at the Apollo and six days before her 46th birthday, Phyllis Hyman took her own life. By way of explanation, she left behind an enigmatic note. “I’m tired. I’m tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.”

Here she is, crooning “In a Sentimental Mood.”

She was simply larger than life. Your fans miss you. Phyllis.

If you’ve never been swept away by Phyllis Hyman, I highly recommend Ultimate Phyllis Hyman, a best-of album that features her hits from 1977 to 1995.

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Comments

  1. AndSoThen says:

    ahhhh I miss her too, she was stunning in person, had those eyes that let you know she was down. Still one of my favorites..
    Tho..”I Try” is a Angie Bofill song, I think of Phyllis whenever I hear it.

  2. She was AMAZING!! Just reading this post brought tears to my eyes because the “gift of her” is so bittersweet. I will always feel that it was her love in loving so hard that was both a blessing and a curse for her. I’m just so happy that we can still listen to her…no make that EXPERIENCE her and remember with feeling.

  3. Reading this made me sad, I have missed her, she was an amazing performer, thank you for this one, it was a walk I talk all the time, as I play her music all the time and think about her. She was wonderful !

  4. Afrobella, I am about to cry…This is so sad…Phyllis Hyman will definitely be missed!!!

  5. Love Phyllis Hyman and I really love your afrobella profiles too.

  6. Oh gosh… I only have her song “You Know How to Love Me” on my MP3 player and was rocking out to that tune today as I rode the subway into the city for work. I have and will always love Phyllis Hyman… because of her I accepted my height (I’m 6′) and learned to carry like like she did. She did not know how inspiring she was :(

  7. I am 20, i never heard of her before, (i dont think)
    look at this interview she did with Arsenio Hall, she had a funny, wonderful personality.

  8. I discovered her “Living All Alone” shortly after I had a really bad breakup about 4 years ago. I listened to that song over and over again, it was so raw and so real to me. I saw that she took her own life from the music facts they show on MusicChoice but I never took the time to look her up and see what she looked like. She was amazingly beautiful and kind of reminds me of Nik from ANTM (At least in that one picture). It really saddens me when anyone dies before their time; Especially talented people like her. People who are very creative are usually the most sensitive and needing of love and attention.

  9. Bella, this was a great piece! Phyllis Hyman was such a striking woman, and to this day her voice and talents are still UNMATCHED. I’m looking forward to the next part in the series!

  10. ‘Bella…Thank you Thank you! Phyllis is one of my all time favorites! its good to remember her.

  11. Thanks Bella for profiling such a beautiful and talented woman. Artist like her, Chaka Khan, and Sade put forward a real grown-up version of sexy when they were younger that make today’s young divas look like little girls playing dress up. Phyliis is still loved by many people–I hope she knows this.

  12. Look at those lips! Beats Angelina!

  13. I was watching School Daze a few weeks ago & during her performance all I thought about was how unfortunate we are not to have her.
    Mental illness is some serious stuff!
    I miss Phyllis, mind body & spirit.

    Bygbaby

  14. jerseybred says:

    Phyllis Hyman died too soon. My favorite song of hers is “Old Friend”. That song brings tears to my eyes.

  15. Black Honey says:

    Phyllis Hyman is one of my favorites. Her version of “Betcha By Golly Wow” is amazing.

  16. Great article, she was an amazing talent and will always ne adored. Thanks for spotlighting a true beauty.

  17. WOW! I agree with all of the above comments…she was simply astounding. I remember growing up listening to her and always being taken aback by her voice. The video of “In a Sentimental Mood” is priceless!

    She should honored in the beautifly way you have done! Peace and Blessings!

  18. I remember exactly where I was, when I heard she was gone — I was in a taxi, with friends, on my way to a…party. What a way to blow the “celebratory spirit”.

    Wow, how said to be so…sad that you would end your own life.

    Favorite song? Hands down, “Betcha By Golly Wow”. She dug deep, and did her best, with that one…

    Thanks for the memories.

  19. My parents still talk about her all. the. time. If they didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of her. I love that she’s not afraid to make an ugly face to get the right sound out. Great voice. Too bad she’s not around anymore. These kind of things make me wonder what Marvin Gaye would be doing now if he were still alive.

  20. Thank you so much for this profile. I’ll never forget the first time I heard her voice. It was nearly a lifetime ago, and I was with a guy in his SUV having deep conversation (I swear that was it! :) ). The song “The Answer is You” came on and I stopped him dead in his tracks while he was spilling his heart out, and asked “Do you know who’s singing?” I know I must have been rude — but really, could anyone blame me?

  21. Hello! This is my first time commenting, but it’s ironic that you mention Phyllis Hyman. I was just looking at her video “I Can’t Stand Living Alone.” I loved her, as a little girl. She will be missed.

  22. Solitude says:

    Phyillis Hyman was such a beautiful woman and a powerful singer. What a great lost. If only she known how much people loved and admired her. This makes me think, we must always respect each other because looks can be deceiving; we don’t ever know what some is going through unless we are in the person’s shoe. We need to respect and be patient with each other.

  23. I have followed Phyllis Hyman since I heard her hit,”Old Friend” when it first came out. I was so sad about her taking her life, yet fasinated that she had such a clear and precise view of her life, and she took command of the fact that she was going to be the one to determine when she would leave this world and how. From the articles I have read regarding her suicide, she was adamant and totally at peace with her decision to leave this world. I only wish she would have realized what a miracle she was and how much we all loved her. It’s sad that she felt she couldn’t turn to God when she needed Him the most. Even sadder that she didn’t realize that through all that heartbreak, God was carrying her, trying to let her know that everything would be okay; that she would be okay, as long as she put her trust, faith and love in Him and not in humanity. She was taken for granted as an artist, performer, a vital, beautiful, black woman, and a deeply troubled human being. She is at rest now with her parents and Linda Creed. I can only hope that she is in heaven, happy and singing her heart out to God and all the loved ones we’ve lost. I’m sure she’s getting a standing ovation.

  24. I cry as I read…I loved Phyllis Hyman when I was a child and I still love her at 29. I knew but I really didn’t understand what suicide was until her death. Because of her, I accepted my height and my not-so-girly voice. She is loved and missed my many.

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