Phyllis Linda Hyman (July 6, 1949 – June 30, 1995) was an African-American singer-songwriter and actress. She is best known for her singles from the late 1970s to the early 1990s: You Know How to Love Me, Living All Alone and Don’t Wanna Change the World. Hyman also performed on Broadway in the 1981 musical based on the music of Duke Ellington, Sophisticated Ladies, which ran from 1981 to 1983. The musical earned her a Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.
Phyllis Hyman was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up in St. Clair Village, the South Hills section of Pittsburgh. Born to an Italian mother and African-American father, Hyman was the eldest of seven children. She won a scholarship to music school and then began her professional career with the group New Direction in 1971. When they disbanded after a national tour, Hyman joined the Miami ensemble All the People. She also worked there with another local group, the Hondo Beat, and appeared in the film Lenny. That was followed by a two-year stint heading Phyllis Hyman & the PH Factor, before relocating to New York.
Hyman performed background vocals for Jon Lucien and built her reputation performing in New York clubs. Norman Connors made her his featured vocalist in the mid-’70s, and she was highlighted on a cover of the Stylistics’ Betcha by Golly Wow, which reached the Top 30 of the R&B chart. Hyman sang with Pharoah Sanders and the Fatback Band while working on her first solo album, Phyllis Hyman, released in 1977 on the Buddah Records label. Buddah released Phyllis Hyman, and she began making an impression when she was signed by Arista in 1978. The songs Somewhere in My Lifetime and You Know How to Love Me both made the R&B Top 20. Hyman got her lone Top Ten hit in 1981 with Can’t We Fall in Love Again, but her albums did consistently well throughout the ’80s. The production teams of Mtume/Reggie Lucas and Narada Michael Walden/Thom Bell gave her material that showcased her skill with sophisticated ballads. Hyman had more success when she left Arista for Philadelphia International in 1986, with the single Living All Alone putting her back in the R&B Top 20. She also sang on fusion and light jazz dates by Joe Sample, Ronnie Foster, and Grover Washington, Jr., a more conventional jazz session for McCoy Tyner, and a pop date with the Four Tops.
Tragically, on the afternoon of June 30, 1995, Hyman committed suicide in the bedroom of her New York City apartment at 211 West 56th Street. She was found unconscious at 2pm, hours before she was scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theater, and died three hours later at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. Her suicide note read in part:
“I’m tired. I’m tired. 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 week would have been her 46th birthday.