Faces of Black Excellence History May 03, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Why did singer Phyllis Hyman commit suicide close to her creative peak?

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

Michael Eli Dokosi May 03, 2020 at 12:00 pm

May 03, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Faces of Black Excellence, History

Phyllis Hyman via saintheron.com

Singer Phyllis Hyman scored great hits in her career while emerging also as a fine concert performer, becoming a headliner in multi-artist soul shows around the world.

Sadly, while approaching her creative peak, Hyman battled personal problems. Alcohol dependency, weight gain and the fear of losing her beauty troubled her. In the end, she committed suicide overdosing on pentobarbital and secobarbital in her New York City apartment.

Hyman’s suicide note in part read: “I’m tired. I’m tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.” She killed herself on June 30, 1995, just a week before she would have turned 46.

Hyman’s music journey began when she received a music scholarship to attend Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, but dropped out after a year, opting to gain practical experience by performing on a national tour with the group, New Direction.

She also had stints with All the People and The Hondo Beat, as well as, Phyllis Hyman and the P/H Factor.

She was best known for her singles from the late 1970s through the early 1990s including: You Know How to Love Me, Living All Alone, and Don’t Wanna Change the World.

When she was 28, Hyman released her first album entitled Phyllis Hyman under the Buddah Records label to warm response from soul and smooth jazz folks.

The Philly native’s debut album was released in 1977 on Buddah Records and when Arista Records bought Buddah Records, she transferred to the new label and released four albums: Somewhere in My Lifetime (1979), You Know How to Love Me (1979), Can’t We Fall in Love Again? (1981), and Goddess of Love (1983).

The July 6, 1949 born now on Arista tasting more success. 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.

Hyman had even 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.

She also performed on Broadway in the musical, Sophisticated Ladies, the tribute play for Duke Ellington. The musical earned her a Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Hyman made her acting debut in 1974 in the film Lenny. She also appeared in the movies, Too Scared to Scream (1985), Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988), and The Kill Reflex (1989).

In 1991, Hyman released the album, The Prime of My Life, on Philadelphia International, which was the biggest album 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, her last released while she was alive, was certified gold by 1992.

Later that year, a posthumous album, I Refuse To Be Lonely, her final work was offered. Hyman’s music proved enduring from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.

Her emotive, jazzy stylings endeared her to many but she also suffered from bipolar disorder and depression and had a history of substance abuse which involved alcohol and cocaine.

She was found unconscious in her bedroom hours before she was scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theater. She died two hours later at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

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