Born on July 6, 1949, in Philadelphia, PA (some sources give year as 1950); died on June 30, 1995; oldest of seven brothers and sisters; raised in Pittsburgh; married Larry Alexander, late 1970s (later divorced). Education: Attended Robert Morris Business College.

When Phyllis Hyman committed suicide in June of 1995, she closed the book on a career that had long been deeply appreciated by connoisseurs of romantic jazz and rhythm-and-blues singing. A commanding physical presence and riveting stage performer, Hyman was a tragic figure beset by personal troubles. Never quite achieving the popularity that her prodigious talent seemed to justify, she nevertheless left behind a legacy of deeply felt recordings and unforgettable live performances.

Phyllis Hyman was born in Philadelphia, most likely on July 6, 1949, and raised in Pittsburgh. (Some sources give the year as 1950, but numerous press reports of her death mentioned that she had been ready to celebrate her forty-sixth birthday.) She was the oldest of seven brothers and sisters. An elementary school teacher noticed and nurtured her vocal talents, but she grew up poor and aimed at first toward a solid career as a legal secretary, attending the Robert Morris Business College.

A six-foot, one-inch beauty, Hyman made her way to New York in her early twenties, dreaming of a career in the entertainment industry. Almost immediately she began to find work at least intermittently as a vocalist, and by 1974 she had formed her own band, Phyllis Hyman and the PH Factor. By the next year she had become a fixture of New York's stylish Upper West Side, making regular appearances at two clubs a few blocks apart, Rust Brown's and Mikell's. Influential figures in the black music industry circulated through these clubs, and Hyman in 1976 attracted the attention of percussionist and producer Norman Connors, who gave her a shot at wider exposure--a featured-performer slot on his album You Are My Starship. The album included Hyman's hit remake of the Stylistics' ballad "Betcha By Golly Wow," which dented R&B charts and helped Hyman make the acquaintance of the song's co-composer, Linda Creed.

On the strength of "Betcha By Golly Wow" and other songs on the album, Hyman was signed to the Arista label in 1977 and released the album Phyllis Hyman. Arista specialized in sophisticated black vocal music with a hint of jazz--the lifeblood of the emerging "quiet storm" format that had gotten its start at the radio station of the premier black educational institution Howard University. The label offered the young singer a congenial environment, and demonstrated its faith in its new recruit by having high-flying vocal star Barry Manilow produce one of her early releases, resulting in the R&B top-fifteen hit "Somewhere in My Lifetime." Hyman also scored a hit with the disco-inflected "You Know How to Love Me."

Hyman married her manager Larry Alexander in the late 1970s, but both the personal and professional associations ended in divorce. For the rest of the singer's life the search for a romantic partner would cause her emotional trouble. She told Jet magazine in 1981 that she hoped for a relationship: "I don't really want to say need because to me--an aggressive, liberated woman--need sounds too pathetic. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe need and want sometimes go together. Maybe I do need and want a man."

At the time, though, the singer was very much occupied with her still-growing career. She won a spot in Broadway's Duke Ellington revue Sophisticated Ladies, and once again flourished in a role where her talent as a live performer could be showcased. Hyman was nominated for a Tony award in 1981, and remained with the cast of the show for three years. (The musical's original cast LP includes Hyman's rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood.") Her recordings made after the run of the musical were only modestly successful; some have attributed the singer's problems at retail to the difficulty fans and music-industry figures encounter when they try to categorize her music: did Hyman sing R&B? Jazz? Pop? The question was never definitively answered, for Hyman's talent crossed lines.

In 1986 Hyman moved to the Philadelphia International label, where she worked with "Philly Soul" producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and made what some feel were her best recordings, although the upper reaches of stardom continued to elude her. On 1986's Living All Alone (which carried, in the words of Boston Globe writer Frederic Biddle, "very dark emotional undertones" with its title-track refrain of "I can't stand this living all alone") and 1991's Prime of My Life (which featured a brief venture into rap music), Hyman hit her stride with lush, sad romantic ballads that may fairly be called tragic.

By the late 1980s Hyman's live shows reliably filled large urban theaters--Harlem's Apollo, Oakland's Paramount, the gloriously ornate Fox in St. Louis. Often dressed in African-inspired clothing, a fez atop her head, Hyman as a stage performer had few peers. Never resting on the natural beauty of her contralto voice, she was given to surprises like a perfectly whistled version of the title track of "Living All Alone" at a Blue Note performance in 1993. Hyman's short performance in Spike Lee's film School Daze also gives an idea of her capabilities.

Living All Alone featured a new Linda Creed composition entitled "Old Friend" which increasingly often became part of Hyman's live show. The two women had long been good friends, and Creed's death in 1993 may have been one of the events that started Hyman on a downward spiral. She gained weight and was rumored to be battling drug and alcohol addictions. During her appearance on television's Arsenio Hall Show viewers were touched and saddened by her frank confession of loneliness and unhappiness. On June 30, 1995, just before she was slated to appear at the Apollo with star vocal group The Whispers, Phyllis Hyman committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills. At her memorial service her sister Sakeema said that the singer had suffered from "addiction and depression."

Her death only intensified the admiration that fans felt for her music, and no fewer than four posthumous releases appeared over the next three and a half years: I Refuse to Be Lonely and Forever with You consisted of unreleased Philadelphia International material, and Arista and Roadshow, Norman Connors' label, released compilations. A different sort of tribute came from The Whispers, who starred and toured in a stage musical about Hyman's career entitled Thank God! The Beat Goes On. Jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson, quoted in Jet magazine, said, "When I think of all the talents that I've known over the years, I considered Sarah Vaughan and Phyllis Hyman as having the greatest voices, greatest instruments ever, the greatest pipes." It seemed all the more tragic that Hyman's greatness had been so little heralded.

by James M. Manheim

Phyllis Hyman's Career

Moved to New York, early 1970s; formed band Phyllis Hyman and the PH Factor, 1974; featured on Norman Connors album You Are My Starship, 1976; signed to Arista label, 1977; worked with producer Barry Manilow, late 1970s, resulting in hit "Somewhere in My Lifetime"; cast member Sophisticated Ladies (Duke Ellington tribute), late 1970s-early 1980s; signed with Philadelphia International label, 1986; recorded albums Living All Alone, 1986, and Prime of My Life, 1991; appeared in Spike Lee film School Daze, 1988. Several posthumous album releases.

Famous Works

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 4 years ago

I love Phyllis's voice...unfortately, I just recently became aquainted with her music...wish I could've seen her perform when she was alive...so tragic an end to such a wonderful artist.

about 4 years ago

So many emotions are going out of me right now. This Lady should get the highest acclaim for what she has contributed. She did not just think of herself. If she did, she would have changed her style. She did not. She did not because from the start she knew she wanted to make a difference; this was her first goal; Not money! This is all i Have to say.

over 4 years ago

I've followed her career since the 1970's & enjoyed the musical journey that could only be Phyllis Hyman. Such a tremendous talent, voice, & performer. Missing your beautiful voice. Peace & love, PH.

over 4 years ago

I,ve always followed Ms. Hyman career and found her music so heartfelt and real. This Lady stills remains to truly missed by myself and others who loved and related to her songs. May God Bless Her forever

over 4 years ago

Phyllis Hyman is the most beautiful and talented singer I've seen. I'm so sad that she wasn't recognized for her immense talent the way she should have been.

over 4 years ago

Phyliss Hyman is the true embodiement of song and poise. Her voice and song is the kind of music you always want to hear. I miss and love her. She is "gone too soon".

almost 5 years ago

Ms Hyman was my idol. There will never be a voice like hers. SHE REPRESENTED SO MUCH FOR MINORITY WOMEN. Beauty, talent, voice of of love & pain. Tall and comfortable with it! Always dressed to kill! Simply "Every woman" in every sense of the word. Truly she is missed...

about 5 years ago

I Really Love Ms.Hyman I Was Watchin A Bio On Her On TV oNE. And I had never heard of her before a day in my life until i saw that on Television, Ms Hyman really inspirer's Me So Much Till This Day And She Way before my time im only 16 years old but i love her dearly! ♥ Jasmine R.I.P Ms.Lovely Phyllis

about 5 years ago

I will forever play Phyllis's music on my radio show(Skyline on mocradio.com). What a legend!

about 5 years ago

You mybe gone but your music will always play a part in my life cause everytime i listen to your music my heart bleed cause I ask my self why did you die Phyllis Hyman I will always love your music I hope I can get one of your DVD

over 5 years ago

To all, though I am very young I still enjoy all the different kinds of music that was played back in the day. Though it was before my time I feel like I could still relate in some kind of way. Ms. Phyllis Hyman was such a unique talented individual who accomplished a lot. She made others smile through her music and talent. She is well missed and loved. R.I.P Pyhllis...

over 5 years ago

WOW!!! What a stunning, gifted, fashion smart woman she was. I was blessed to see her perform for the first time in my life and I have never, never forgotten it. I've loved her ever since. Ms. Hyman's music has touched me in so many ways, I've even felt that I could relate to what she was feeling, because of a few personal things in my life. When I heard of her death, I was at home listening to the radio and it was announced that she was found in her Hotel room. I was shocked and hurt, because I had just seen her in concert about a month or two earlier. Ms. Phyllis Hyman you are trully missed and God has a angel singing in heaven. I wish I could have had the opportunity to design something for you. I love clothes also. God Bless you always.

over 5 years ago

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Phyllis preform many times and even being introduced at a NYC restaurant where she then sang accompanied by only a piano. She was truly a gifted singer who deserves a place next to the greats.I believe her voice was unparalleled.Right there with Ella,Billie,Sarah and Dinah from the past.And far surpassing and present day female vocalist. SHE IS TRULY MISSED!!!!

over 5 years ago

Dear All, I truly miss Phyliss Hyman. For a while I was so angry with her for taking her life. I, along with everyone else did not understand why the world had to loose such a wonderful person. It did not seem fair at all. And I cried many days because I did not understand why God would allow her suicide to happen. However, I have a full understanding of what really happened to her. I, too, struggle with Bipolar Disorder. It is like living in hell because the chemicals in the brain are not balanced. The side effects of the medicine often breeds the suicidal thoughts. The victim has euphoric highs (which can be harmful), and tremendous lows. I have been living this same turmoil since childhood. Bipolar Disorder is what took our beloved Phyliss. It is hard for the doctors to know exactly what medicines to prescribe. Or, just the whole process of assessment can take months to years. It is frightening. After a while, people just become hopeless. And their beliefs in God, and his ability to heal are strained. In the African American community, we tend to shy away from talking about mental illness. It is easy for us to refer to victims as "crazy". Please know that there are millions of people who struggle with bipolar disorder. The constant mood swings, the thoughts of suicide and the taunting from others is too much to take. In addition, 41 million people in the U.S. do not have healthcare. This is a problem. Suicide for some will be inevitable. Could we please discuss the topic of manic depression? If anyone would like more information about bipolar disorder, please email: dwandaone@aol.com. There is an online bipolar course, and it is free. You may register for the daily newsletters. Please pass the word on.... we do not want to loose anyone else to bipolar disorder. Thank you very much for your time. God Bless! PS. Phyliss, we will always love you! Lee

over 5 years ago

My biggest regret is i never got see Phyllis in concert. I have loved that woman from the moment i first hread her sing. When my wife told me she had died i cried because she was the woman of my dreams. Phyllis touched my life in a way no other woman had with her music. I loved to hear her sing and i have all her music. I've even made my own greatest hits playlist. Thank you Phyllis for being a part of my life and leavivg me the most precious gift you had. Your music and memories. You'll always have a place in my heart. Love You!

over 5 years ago

There are a lot of wonderful female vocalist in the music industry, but for me there was only two female vocalist that touched my heart in a way that no other female vocalist has. One of them was Minnie Rippleton the other is Phyllis Hyman. I listen to Ms Hyman over and over again and never paid attention to how sad she really was until she died. When I look at her past interviews, I can see the pain that she experienced. She is one of the greatest singers in history and I miss her so much. She will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you Phyllis for sharing your God given talent with us.

over 5 years ago

I have all of Phyllis Hymans CD's.I was her same age.I read all the previous comments.Interesting,at least before 1995 I never heard sadness.I heard strength.I could not believe how beautiful her voice was.She put a smile on my face!I was a mom of 2 boys and a hub,I used to crank those tunes and whip through my household chores. She gave me energy!To bad back then we did not have email.Food for thought, when you appreciate someone tell them.To Phyllis's family,she was a blessing and so loved.

over 5 years ago

Phyllis Hyman has always been someone I felt a connection to you. Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting her I did buy her music. Just this morning while on my way to work I listened to her CD with the song Somewhere In My Lifetime. This song moves me and I suddenly found myself wishing she could have found the strength to fight the demons that constantly prey on those like her. I think she was an empath but didn't understand her gift. I believe she absorbed others pain all while trying to be strong to her on vunerability. Phyllis Hyman thought she was all alone. Rest in peace Phyllis.

over 5 years ago

I was very sad & angry at the same time. Sad because she was a TRUE DIVA and a Legend. Angry because the music industry could had paid a little more attention in the words of her songs. All the signs were in the words. I knew she was a depressed woman. I will always miss her and I loved her dearly. She was a beautiful Diva and a glorifying voice. She's with God now. She's missed dealry. I still have her music. I love you Ms. Diva

over 5 years ago

After reading about Phyllis Hyman it still sadden me to tear as if it was the day,I was told about her death. I just wish people could realize that they do not need another human being to fullfill there life it would be nice to have someone to love and care for and for them to return it back. But sometime life gives us things we do not enjoy. But, love starts from within you loving yourself and excepting your life. I really enjoyed her music her sounds. I hope she is in a better place.

over 5 years ago

I've been a dedicated fan of Phyllis Hyman, since I was in High School. I often have days and moments when I play the many CDs and LPs I have. She will always be one of my favorite singer. I jewel that I will treasure for a lifetime. I pray that she found peace.What was said and done in her final hours is between her and Our Heavenly Father. May God Continuously Bless Her Family, Friends, and Many devoted Fans, who will always have a special place for her in their hearts.

over 5 years ago

She was one of the best , That's all I can say , She was and will always be a Star. I love all of her music.

over 5 years ago

I'm a International singer. Pittsburgh is my second home. I really enjoyed the late Beloved Phylis Hyman her voice was outstanding I never really paid any attention to her attention until December 2008 on TV One. Prophetess Gloria (716) 844-8849

over 5 years ago

I saw Phillis Hyman on Unsung the other night and I've always loved her music. But to be honest with you I thought that she was still alive I never new that she commited suicide. That heart my heart. I used to feel unloved just like she did and I wish there would have been a way for someone to help her the way someone helped me. Phillis R.I.P. You and your voice are truly missed.

over 5 years ago

" Never quite achieving the popularity that her prodigious talent seemed to justify" Wow that's news to me because as a preteen i idolized her and was unaware that she wasn't a star. She'll always be a super star to me.

over 5 years ago

i recently viewed Phyllis Hyman's bio on TVone, UNsung...and I have been struck with sadness ever since. Such a precious gift and yet, she didn't even know who she was! I miss her, i'll never forget her, and I love her and her music is magic . I just wish someone had reached out to help her....tried alittle harder to reach her to get her attention... tamu

over 5 years ago

I was just 13yrs old when I first heard Phyllis Hyman, I knew right then I was hooked on her voice. It was truely a voice to be reckoned with. My father was a jazz connisseur that introduced his daughters to female jazz artist. She cooned her way through our house on Saturday mornings while we did our weekend chores. I can only imagine the kind of impact Phyllis would have had on the music industry if she would have lived. God Bless her Soul, Rest in peace girlfriend for your are still loved and missed by so many.

over 5 years ago

my mom had phyllis hyman's cds and i always listened to them but i never new who she was but i loved the way she sang. About two days ago there was a story about her on BET and i watched it. i never saw anyone so beautiful and her voice was amazing.the way she dressed was to amazing. though i am only eighteen, she is and has always been my favorite singer.

over 5 years ago

I just watched the special that TVOne did on Ms. Hyman and she was truly a jewel, her talent wasn't showcased like it should have been. Beautiful inside and out and I don't think she knew just how much she was loved by her true fans. I love and miss her.

over 5 years ago

She is one of my favorite artists. I can still remember today when it came on the news 13 years ago that she took her own life. How sad!! Such a beautiful woman with a big talent. That voice! Never heard another like it. I was watching a special on her last night on TVONE. Mental illness and depression ran in her family. I wonder why no one reached out to her if they seen the signs. Maybe they did and she dismissed them. Either way, it's still tragic. She couldn't see how she had a lot of fans that loved her.

over 5 years ago

I love Phillis Hyman. God only made one, just one voice like hers. There has been no one in this lifetime with a voice like hers. Hyman's voice echoes sentiments of love, passion, and a plea to be loved.

over 5 years ago

I have always loved Phyllis Hyman, it's so unfortunate she dealt with all she did. When listening to her music you can hear she was very unhappy. I definately feel her story is one that should have been put into a movie. Her talent, her mental illness she deslt with is one that many people could relate too. It could let people knowthey are not alone and enlighten family and friends with how to help their loved ones. Phyllis you are truly missed and your voice is definatley missed.

over 5 years ago

I loved Phyllis Hyman, I am glad TVONE is telling her story on untold, I am watching an remebereing Our "Old Friend" She was marvelous. She was sexy and very very talented.

over 5 years ago

Phyllis Hyman was one of a kind when it came to an artist. there wont be another as talened and strong as her.Continue to Rest Phyllis R.I.P

over 5 years ago

First off I like to correct the Discography: Hyman's first LP was on the Buddah Label, not Arista. Hyman was an outstanding artist and her death was not a surprise to me. If one truly listens to the lyrics of most of hyman's catalog, she was not a happy person. It's a shame that her demons got the best of her.....

over 5 years ago

I find it so amazing that even today, I still get chills hearing her music and wondering, what else she could have contribruted to the entertainment industry. She was a great all around entertainer and appeared to be very real and down to earth. I agree with Gilbert, someone had to have noticed something to possibly help her. I was just watching her video, "Living All Alone" and she was just so graceful and classy. Simply beautiful! She will always be missed and I wish she really knew how much she was loved. I am surprised that with all of the awards and tributes that have been given to other artists, I have not heard of any that BET or other sources have done for her. I hope that her story can still remind us to be mindful of our loved ones and just paying attention to the signs. I hope my beautiful sister is resting and has found her peace...

almost 6 years ago

I never know when my Phyllis torch songs groove is going to hit me but everytime it does, its like hearing all this beautiful music for the frist time. I still find it hard to believe that a talent and a voice like hers is no more. How can that be? What could she have been so tired from? Why didn't she reach out to someone? Why couldn't someone see what was happening? This one was a big one. It is our tragic loss. Her music is as timely, contemporary, and beautiful today as it was the day she recorded it. She was way ahead of her time and unfortunately, left us way ahead of her time. There isn't and never will be another Phyllis Hyman. Only God knows why and only God can give her peace. Rest now Phyllis. Thank you for your amazing gift that will live forever. Favorites (in this order) 1. First time together 2. Old Friend 3. Prime of My Life

almost 6 years ago

I will all ways love Phillis Hyman i miss her. we need more music like her today.

over 6 years ago

I don't think anyone would complain about using the photos. Phyllis is still loved today and very much missed. I love you Phyllis.

almost 7 years ago

i am trying to contact someone who would give me permission to use images i have created of phillis. there is an art show coming up in lancaster california at the avc college where i am a 65 year old student. phillis most live on.