I remember the first time I heard a Phyllis Hyman song. This was in March 2006 at my boy Tim’s condo. He’d turned his second bedroom into a makeshift studio and we did a lot of writing and producing in that room. At the time, he was the producer and I was just learning the basics of sampling and producing and had been doing songwriting. We were looking to actually release an album with him on the beats and me on the notepad. Eventually our album dreams started to dissipate as I delved head first into production and discovered my love for creation. Tim’s condo is where I honed my craft and took the baton and started running.
Tim’s house is also the place where his Apple Mac erased and corrupted my iPod of the 25,000 songs and playlists I’d meticulously arranged and organized. That was a very sad, sad day. Neither of us said much after that. I just went home with an empty iPod and a broken heart.
But this particular day, I showed up and he had Phyllis Hyman’s “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” playing on his KRK speakers. Until this day, I’d never heard of her which is amazing in retrospect. I had become a pretty voracious crate digger via both the internet and mom and pop shops. My old school collection was a thing of wonder, but somehow I’d never actually (knowingly) head a song by this woman. Even then I wasn’t completely wowed by what I heard. I asked who it was and what he was going to do with the beat, if anything. I don’t remember if he had any plans and if he did, I don’t think they ever materialized.
After that evening, I went to Tower Records – remember those? – and while perusing the stacks for some new album to purchase I ran across a greatest hits album called Love Songs. I figured why not and picked it up. I was heading to New York City (Brooklyn to be exact) the next day to visit my then-girlfriend and needed some new music to listen to during the drive. This was also during the time when bootleg albums were a thing and I’d procured a link to T.I.’s King album that would be released in a few weeks. Little did I know my life was going to change.
Of course, on that ride up I threw in King first. That album was monumental in my life. It felt like Atlanta to me. I felt like I was riding down MLK Blvd on the Westside. It felt so super authentic to me. I love that album to this day and it had what would be the song of the year in 2006, “What You Know”. About an hour and some change into my trip, I reached the last toll booth in Maryland before entering Delaware and changed CD’s and put in Phyllis Hyman’s Love Songs.
The very first song on that album is “Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)”. This song took me from being a person that didn’t know who she was to feeling a personal loss to my life and soul in four minutes and nineteen seconds. I actually shed a tear before the song was over. That’s how powerful her voice was to me. She hit a note at around the three minute and thirty-five second mark that almost made me pull over. I’m not making any of this up. This is how much of an effect that one song had on my soul. I must have played it on repeat at least ten times. Then I let the rest of the album play and was annoyed with myself that I’d gone this long in life (I was 27 at this point) without Phyllis Hyman. I questioned friendships of mine. I questioned my parents as to how they could make a thing like Kenny G a thing in my house but nobody ever played Phyllis Hyman.
By the time I got to NYC I was a changed man. I pulled up to park on Bergen Street and had to reflect for a moment on what I’d listen to. And that voice. My goodness that voice was sent from heaven. From that day forward, any time a person asked me who my favorite singers were I had to amend my list that was previously solely reserved for Donny Hathaway to include Phyllis Hyman. And much like Donny, to me, Phyllis could do no wrong. There wasn’t a single song of hers – despite much of her music falling in that adult contemporary category – that I didn’t love because her voice was so pure to me.
I even remember the first time I heard her song, “The Answer Is You” on the radio. I was pissed AGAIN that I didn’t know this song.
Since 2006, Phyllis Hyman has been in constant rotation in both my life and stereo. When I’m feeling down I listen to her to pick me up, which is odd (I know) considering that her own music had a super sombre tone to it, much like Donny Hathaway. (And much like Donny in 1979, she committed suicide in 1995.)
My life has been made better by the addition of Phyllis Hyman. Her music, her soul, her voice, her passion, her authenticity. Just her.
Phyllis Hyman, I thank you for the gift you gave to the world when you were here. And I appreciate how you’ve moved my life since you’ve been gone.
Like she sang in “The Answer Is You”, “…where have you been all my life?”
That’s how I felt when I really listened and I haven’t been the same since.
Thank you, Phyllis Hyman for sharing.
You are appreciated.