Phyllis Linda Hyman (July 6,
1949 — June 30, 1995) was an American soul singer and Tony-nominated actress.
Hyman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and grew up in the St.
Clair Village, the south end section of Pittsburgh.
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.
moved to New York
City to work on her reputation.
background vocals on Jon Lucien
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
the Fatback Band while working on her first solo album, Phyllis
, released in 1977 on the Buddah Records
label. When Arista Records
bought Buddah, she was
transferred to that label. Her first album for Arista,
Somewhere in My Lifetime
was released in 1979; the title
track was produced by then-labelmate Barry
. 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 70's, Hyman married her manager Larry Alexander
(who is the brother of Jamaican pianist and melodica player
), but both the
personal and professional associations ended in divorce.
Hyman's first solo Top Ten hit came in 1981 with "Can't We Fall In
Love Again", a duet with Michael
. The song was recorded while she was
performing in the Broadway musical
a tribute to Duke Ellington.
She performed in the role for almost two years, receiving a
nomination for Best Supporting
Actress in a Musical and winning a Theatre World Award
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
and The Four Tops
provided vocals for three tracks on jazz
's Looking Out
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
, formerly of Sergio Mendes
and Brasil '66.
Free from Arista in 1985, she released the album, Living All
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
and The Kill Reflex
. She would also continue
to lend her voice to albums for other artists and musicians like
Grover Washington, Jr.
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
singing the title song, "Remember Who You Are", which became a
minor R&B hit. Prime of My Life
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.
Hyman struggled with bipolar
, weight gain and financial problems.
She was also emotionally exhausted from lending her talents to
benefits concerts and support groups.
Adding to her depression, in 1993 her mother, grandmother and a
close friend all died within the span of a month.
On the afternoon of June 30, 1995, Hyman committed suicide by
overdosing on pentobarbital
in her New York City
apartment. She was found hours before she was scheduled
to perform at the Apollo
Her suicide note read in part:
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 month on what would have
been her 46th birthday.
In November 1995, Hyman's posthumous album I Refuse To Be
was released. Although the project had an overdrawn
gestation, to combat the delay in its commercial release, Hyman
started performing the tracks, "This Too Shall Pass" and "I Refuse
To Be Lonely" in concert. The delay in the album's release
adversely affected Hyman both emotionally & financially and the
delay was said to be cited over "cost negotiations."
Three years after her death, a second posthumous album of
previously unreleased material was released. Songs were culled from
various recording sessions from the mid 1980s into the early 1990s.
Forever With You
(1998) contains love
, torch songs
ballads, smooth jazz offerings and uptempo tracks, most of which
showcase Hyman's' usual interpretation of heartbreak and strife.
Hyman was quoted as saying that these songs were about
"relationships gone bad!" Much of the material on this album was
initially intended for her Living All Alone
song "Funny How Love Goes" contains a posthumous "duet" featuring
vocalist Damon Williams. Half of Hyman's vocals were re-recorded
with both singers alternating vocals and providing Williams with
In December 2003, Expansion Records, in association with The Other
Artists' Entertainment (Canada), released the compilation album
entitled In Between The Heartaches: The Soul of a Diva
This album contains further previously unreleased demo recordings
from the 1980s. Included are the McCoy Tyner tracks which remain
Hyman's most critically acclaimed recordings. Many anecdotes
outlining his personal relationship with Hyman, along with rare and
insightful information about the songs is included by Michael
Grimaldi, a personal and professional friend of Hyman.
In September 2007, an authorized biography was released. The book
entitled Strength of a Woman: the Phyllis Hyman Story
written by Jason A. Michael in cooperation with the Estate of
Phyllis Hyman. The book mentions Hyman's relationships with both
men and women.
In 2008, an original version of the James Bond theme "Never Say
Never Again," that wasn't used inthe film due to contractual
issues, was released by the track's co-writer Stephen
Forsythe.Stephen Forsythe has been quoted as stating:
During the filming of the James Bond movie Never
Say Never Again, I co-wrote the title song for the movie with
Warner Brothers informed our attorney that the song was
to be used as the title song in the picture.
However, shortly before its release, Warner Bros
informed us that the song could not be used because Michel Legrand,
who wrote the score, threatened to sue them, claiming that
contractually he had the right to the title song.
So my song was never released.
The legendary Phyllis Hyman was my first choice to sing the song
and working with her is one of the highlights of my musical career.
I personally auditioned and sang the song to her while she was
having breakfast in her manager’s office. After agreeing to sing
the song, she arrived at the studio and, without any rehearsal and
only having heard the song sung once at the breakfast audition,
sang the song in one perfect take. Phyllis sadly took her own life
in the early nineties. The year before she died, she called me late
one night and told me she felt that "Never Say Never Again" was her
best and favorite recording.
References in Popular Culture
- The short, pre-vocal interlude in the song "Loving You, Losing
You" was sampled into a short musical theme for fights between two
characters of Adult Swim's animated
series The Boondocks in the
episode "...Or Die Trying".
- Socially conscious rap group, A Tribe Called Quest, spoke of Phyllis
Hyman in their song, "Baby Phife's Return", by saying, 'Let me
take this time to say R.I.P. to Phyllis Hyman/Who never got the
props that she damn well deserved...'
- The TV show Swingtown used part of the song "Kiss You
All Over" in an episode.
- The R&B group "ATL"'s song "Calling All Girls" has a rap
section that contains the lyrics "...But still a diamond/Voice
like Phyllis Hyman...".
- Rapper Juelz Santana rhymes
"I'm still grindin' still pitchin' that 'Phyllis Hyman' on
the song "You Oughta Know"
- Rappers Method Man and Redman sample both the instruments and
voice of Phyllis Hyman's classic "Magic Mona" in their 2009 hit,