Although Phyllis Hyman’s career was cut tragically short, the eight albums she released between 1977 and 1991, are a tantalizing reminder of a singer who could’ve and should’ve become one of the greats of soul music. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Tragedy intervened. Phyllis Hyman committed suicide, a week before her forty-sixth birthday. Ironically, she had just enjoyed the most successful period her career. 

For what proved to be her final album, 1991s Prime Of My Life, Phyllis came home. She’d signed for Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Phyllis was one of the label’s biggest artists. Prime Of My Live reached number 117 in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. While this was far from her most successful album, it featured the most successful single of her career, Don’t Wanna Change The World. It reached number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Certified gold, it looked like Don’t Wanna Change The World would change Phyllis’ world and career. That looked like being the case. Two further top ten US R&B singles followed, Living In Confusion and When You Get It Right. After that, I Found Love and Remember Who You Are stalled in the lower reaches of the charts. No-one thought though, that Remember Who You Are, Phyllis’ duet with Norman Connors would prove to be her musical farewell. Tragically, it was. On June 30th 1995, soul music lost one of the most talented singers of a generation.   Eighteen years earlier, when Phyllis Hyman released her debut album things looked very different.

In 1977, Phyllis Hyman released her eponymous debut album on Buddah Records. It features on SoulMusic Records’ recent compilation Phyllis Hyman The Buddah Years. Featuring thirteen tracks, this includes Phyllis Hyman plus four bonus track. This includes three tracks from her sophomore album Sing A Song and You’re The One, which wasn’t released until 2002. For those unfamiliar with Phyllis Hyman’s music, this is a good place to start. It’s Phyllis Hyman that I’ll tell you about, after I’ve told you about her career until the release of her debut album.

Phyllis Hyman was born in Philly, but grew up in St. Clair Village of Pittsburgh. She was the oldest in a family of seven children. Growing up, Phyllis became interested in music. So, it’s no surprise that she on leaving high school, she headed to music college. On her graduation from music college in 1971, Phyllis headed out on a nationwide tour.

Touring America with New Direction during 1971, was the perfect start to Phyllis’ nascent musical career. When New Direction split-up, Phyllis joined another band, The Hondo Beat. Then by 1974, Phyllis made her film debut in Lenny. This was the first of five films she featured in. Around the time she was filming Lenny, Phyllis lead a new band Phyllis Hyman and The PH Factor. Little did she realize it, but Phyllis was within touching distance of being discovered.

Sid Mauer was one of the legendary figures of American music. A former singer, Sid had expanded his musical interests. His partner in this new venture was Fred Frank, who’d previously worked for Epic Records. They’d formed Roadshow Records. So when they “discovered” Phyllis, they signed her to a subsidiary of Roadshow Records, Desert Moon Records.

It was in 1976, on Desert Moon Records, that Phyllis released Baby (I’m Gonna Love You). This was her sophomore single. She’d been briefly signed to Private Stock Records, releasing Leavin’ The Good Life Behind in 1975. However, signing to Desert Moon Records kick-started Phyllis’ career.

Soon, Phyllis was a regular feature singing in New York clubs. That was where Norman Connors first heard her. He was looking for a female vocalist for his 1976 album You Are My Starship. She’d already sung on Jon Lucien’s 1976 album Premonition. When he heard Phyllis, Norman knew she was who he’d been looking for. You Are My Starship was then certified gold. Phyllis also enjoyed a hit single with Norman, Betcha By Golly Wow, a cover of a Stylistics song. Having played a part in the success of Norman Connors’ You Are My Starship, Phyllis was then signed to Buddah Records, where work began on her debut album Phyllis Hyman.

For her debut album Phyllis Hyman, nine tracks were chosen. Thom Bell and Linda Creed contributed Loving You, Losing You and I Don’t Want To Lose You. Skip Scarborough penned No One Can Love You Any More, Larry Alexander wrote Beautiful Man Of Mine and Hubert Eaves wrote Children Of The World. Other tracks included Evie Sands and Richard Germinaro’s One Thing On My Mind, plus covers of Deliver The Love, Was Yesterday Such A Long Time Ago and The Night Bird Gets The Love. These nine tracks became Phyllis Hyman.

The nine tracks that became Phyllis Hyman, were recorded at three studios with three producers, Jerry Peters, John Davis and Larry Alexander and Sandy Torano. Each producer used a different studio and different musicians. Total Experience in Los Angeles, New York’s Record Plant and Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios were all used in producing what became Phyllis Hyman.

At Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios producer John Davis brought in some of the city’s best musicians. A rhythm section of drummer Charles Collins, bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman and guitarists Denis Harris and Craig Synyder. They were joined by percussionist Larry Washington, keyboardists Richard Rome and John E. Davis, Don Renaldo’s strings and backing vocalists The Sweethearts of Sigma. Among the other musicians who played on Phyllis Hyman were drummer Harvey Mason and tenor saxophonist Gary Bartz. After sessions at three separate studios, with three producers and three backing bands, Phyllis Hyman was ready for release in 1977.

On the release of Phyllis Hyman in 1977, it reached number 107 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts. The lead single Loving You, Losing You. It reached number 103 in the US Billboard 100, number thirty-two in the US R&B Charts and number thirty-eight in the US Dance Charts. Then No One Can Love You More reached number fifty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Phyllis Hyman’s  debut album, Phyllis Hyman which I’ll tell you about, saw her career get off to a successful start.

Opening Phyllis Hyman, is Loving You, Losing You which was produced by Jerry Peters. Mellow, melancholy keyboards and a thoughtful rhythm section join flourishes of strings. Gradually, the scene is being set for Phyllis. For over two minutes, the drama builds. Signaling the arrival of Phyllis’ vocal are ethereal harmonies. Hurt and heartbreak fills her vocal. Stabs of piano, swirling strings, soaring harmonies and pounding drums join flourishes of piano and rocky guitars, which sound out of place. What doesn’t sound out of place is Phyllis’ needy vocal. Later, Thom Bell influenced French horns reflect the emotion and wistfulness of Phyllis’ vocal, on this heartbreaking opus.

The sultriest of horns and cooing harmonies open No One Can Love You Any More. They grab your attention, before the arrangement meanders along, with Phyllis’ pensive vocal floating above it. Her band play slowly and carefully, fusing soul and jazz. Needy and insecure describes Phyllis’ vocal. Strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and harmonies coo, as the arrangement takes on a dreamy, melancholy sound. This proves the perfect backdrop for Phyllis’ needy pleas. 

One Thing On My Mind has a tougher, funkier sound. John Davis takes over production. With the Philly crew, a sassy Phyllis struts her way through the arrangement. Accompanying her are a funky rhythm section, swathes of disco strings and The Sweethearts of Sigma’s sweeping harmonies. They’re the perfect foil for Phyllis, with Carla, Evette and Barbara matching her every step of the way for sass and soulfulness. The band fuse disco, funk and Philly Soul, playing their part in a track that’s truly timeless.

Against an understated backdrop to I Don’t Want To Lose You, Phyllis delivers a vocal that’s impassioned and sincere. Her vocal is at the heart of the bass lead arrangement. Keyboards, lush strings and tender harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma accompany Phyllis as she delivers a tender, beautiful vocal that later, becomes a jazzy scat. During this track, Phyllis more than hints that she was destined for greatness.

Deliver The Love is an uptempo track, produced by Larry Alexander and Sandy Torano. The rhythm section and keyboards drive the arrangement along. With strings swirling and horns blazing, a feisty Phyllis delivers a strident vocal. Mixing power and feistiness, her vocal veers between hurt filled, frustrated and angry, as soul, jazz and funk unite.

A pensive piano opens Was Yesterday Such A Long Time Ago. This gives the track a subtle, but dramatic and jazzy backdrop. It allows Phyllis to showcase her vocal prowess. Not only does she demonstrate her versatility, but how she can breath life, meaning and emotion into a song. Enveloped by swathes of strings, piano and pounding drums Phyllis delivers a vocal bristling with emotion and regret.

The Night Bird Gets The Love, a jazz-tinged track floats along. Thanks to the rhythm section and keyboards, the arrangement becomes jaunty. This matches Phyllis’ vocal, which has grown in power. Sass and emotive, her vocal veers between powerful to tender and sometimes, a jazzy scat. Meanwhile, the arrangement becomes funky, before returning to its understated, jazzy sound. With harmonies, mellow keyboards and lush strings for company a compelling track full of contrasts and beauty unfolds. 

Beautiful Man Of Mine was the last track produced by Jerry Peters. It veers between soulful, funky and jazzy. Like the opening track, the scene is set for the arrival of Phyllis’ vocal. You settle back and enjoy the myriad of strings, punchy harmonies, rhythm section and chiming guitars. Things get uber funky just before Phyllis takes centre-stage. Sassy and sultry describes her vocal, as she sings call and response with her backing vocalists. When the harmonies drop out, Phyllis mixes power, passion and sass. From there, she delivers one her best and most soulful vocals on Phyllis Hyman. 

Children Of The World closes Phyllis Hyman. Straight away, jazz, funk, rock and soul collide head on, during a track that has some inspirational lyrics. Behind her, her band showcase their not inconsiderable skills. The rhythm supply supply funk, keyboards jazz and rock guitars add an element of drama. As for Phyllis, her impassioned vocal supplies the soul as she delivers her message with the utmost sincerity.

When Phyllis Hyman was released in 1977, Phyllis was already twenty-eight. She’d served her musical apprenticeship, singing in various bands, then New York clubs and finally singling backing vocals. Released to plaudits and praise, critics forecast great things for Phyllis Hyman. Some went as far as saying here was the future of soul. Phyllis’ debut album sold well, reaching number 107 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts. This got Phyllis’ career off to a good start. Indeed, the future looked good for Phyllis. She was signed to Buddah Records, one of the up-and-coming labels of the seventies.

Following Phyllis Hyman, Sing A Song was released on Buddah Records in 1978. Three songs from Sing A Song, plus Phyllis Hyman feature on Phyllis Hyman The Buddah Years, which SoulMusic Records recently released. Sing A Song, Phyllis’ sophomore album proved to be her final album for Buddah. Next stop was Clive Davis’ Arista.

At Arista, Phyllis released a quartet of albums. For five years, Phyllis called Arista here home.  1978s Somewhere In My Lifetime was Phyllis Hyman’s Arista debut. Then came 1979s You Know How To Love Me, 1981s Can We Fall In Love Again and 1983s Goddess Of Love, her Arista swan-song. Goddess Of Love was Phyllis’ last album on a major label. What would be her final album, was a homecoming of sorts.

By 1991, Philadelphia International Records was a shadow of its former self. Despite this, Phyllis Hyman signed to Gamble and Huff’s label. She’d come home, to Philly, her hometown. Phyllis Hyman was Philadelphia International Records’ biggest artist. She released Prime Of My Live In 1991. It reached number 117 in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. This was far from Phyllis’ most successful album. At least it featured the most successful single of Phyllis’ career, Don’t Wanna Change The World. Not only was did it reach number one in the US R&B Charts, but was certified gold. Then two further top ten singles followed. With Phyllis Hyman enjoying the most succesful period of her career, it looked like Phyllis was about to become one of the most successful soul singers of the nineties. That wasn’t to be.

Over the next few years, Phyllis’ career stalled. Quite the opposite. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere. That pales into significance with what happened next. For some time, Phyllis Hyman had suffered from depression. Then tragedy struck on 30th June 1995. Phyllis Hyman was found dead in her New York flat. She’d committed suicide. A singer who looked like becoming one of the successful of her generation, had her career struck tragically short. Blessed with one of the most soulful voices of a generation, Phyllis Hyman could breath life, meaning and emotion into a song, making it her own. Proof of that is the music on Phyllis Hyman The Buddah Years, a tantalizing reminder of the talented and soulful Phyllis Hyman. Standout Tracks: No One Can Love You Any More, One Thing On My Mind, I Don’t Want To Lose You and Beautiful Man Of Mine.


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