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Wed, 07.06.1949

A Sophisticated Lady, Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman

On this date in 1949, Phyllis Hyman, an African American singer and entertainer, was born.

Hyman grew up poor in Philadelphia where she was born, the oldest of seven brothers and sisters. She was intent on a career as a legal secretary. After high school and attending Robert Morris Business College, she made her way to New York, now dreaming of a career in the entertainment business.  In 1974, she formed her own group, Phyllis Hyman and the PH Factor. One year later she had become a fixture at Rust Brown’s and Mikell’s, two clubs on the upper West Side of New York.

In 1976, Norman Connors worked with her on his album, "You Are My Starship," which included Hyman singing "Bethcha By Golly Wow." Arista records signed her in 1977; she fit well with the company's direction of sophisticated vocals with a hint of jazz. Through the label, she affected the charts with "Somewhere in My Lifetime" and "You Know How to Love Me." Hyman married her manager, Larry Alexander, in the late 1970s, but their personal and professional associations ended in divorce.  This would haunt her for the rest of her life. Soon after, she won a spot on the Duke Ellington Revue, "Sophisticated Ladies," and she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1981, remaining with the show for three years.

In 1986, Hyman moved to the Philly International record label and made some of her best recordings.  Albums such as "Living All Alone" and "Prime of My Life" (1991) were released.  Also during this period, she was filling venues such as Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Oakland’s Paramount, and The Fox in St. Louis, often wearing traditional African costumes. Her versatility is shown in a short but impressive performance in Spike Lee’s film "School Daze." In the 1990s, Hyman gained weight and there were rumors of drug and alcohol abuse. She gave a touching confession when interviewed on the Arsenio Hall Show of how lonely and unhappy she was at the time.

On June 30, 1995, just before a show with the Whispers singing group, Phyllis Hyman committed suicide.

Reference:
Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America 1930-1975
by Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books
ISBN 0-8230-8314-4

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