During the time of pulling music together so I could actually create a music blog, I wanted to find a way to showcase particular artist. Looking through the catalog of artists I’ve collected over the years, I recognized there were so many artists’ whose genius will never be elevated or lauded to its’ most deserving heights. Their brilliance belongs in the custody of its most intimate listeners.

Phyllis Hyman.  Under Her Spell: Greatest Hits was the first CD I ever purchased. It stood out on the shelf and I grabbed it to give my new portable CD player a test run.   She’d slid into Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze’, shining on-screen singing the jazzy “Only Be One”, and  I remembered her mid-80’s R&B hits “Old Friend” and “Living All Alone”. But that day in Sam Goody’s on 14th & F NW, all I really knew was that she could sang!  Of course through that disc, I would “discover” her career did not begin in the 80’s. Long before my medulla oblongata had been properly formed, Phyllis Hyman was driving her deep and husky voice down jazz alleys and soul music boulevards.

Unfortunately, what I would eventually understand about her importance would come only after her death. Phyllis Hyman committed suicide fifteen years ago.  In June 1995 I landed in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, and as soon as my traveling party settled into my best friends’ car, she told us news reports were announcing Phyllis Hyman’s death. One of my traveling companions, a young 19 year old man, turned to me and asked, “Who is Phyllis Hyman?”.

That 4th of July weekend, Phyllis Hyman and I lived a galaxy apart.  I was 24, a fresh college grad,  “hanging out” with passion absent purpose, burning through the timeless days,  high on potential, promise and possibilities. I’d corralled family and friends to HOT-lanta because it was all we could afford while acting as if money was just another useless mistress. There were neither husbands nor wives nor children. We were completely in touch with what we wanted, and clueless about our needs.  When you’re 24, unintentionally selfish in your self-absorption and captivated by mundane passions, you still believe that everything will be better. Suicide is not your companion. Twenty-four is unearned boast, arrogance in the face of time’s inevitable limitations, a space where even mortal wounds quickly heal. However, 24 gone wrong is 45 with a scabrous map of broken dreams leading to a foraminous heart shrunk by unattended anger and fear.

Fifteen years sober youth’s drunken dreams. I can think of 1,000 reasons to evacuate my sparse 175lb plot of land mass. The ignus fatuus of immortality shone thrown accumulated failures; dreams deferred and mobile passions stalled by reality.  I recognize the depth, know the realism of  “Living All Alone”, “Ain’t You Had Enough Love”, “Waiting for the Last Tear to Fall” or “Gonna Make Changes”. Fifteen years is the difference between listening to lyrics and living them.

I’m tired. I’m tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.” Those were the words of Phyllis Hymans’ suicide note.  Simple words that we all feel. Not through manipulation did she tell stories every woman will learn by heart. Whatever circumstances that did not allow her star to shine among the constellation of her contemporaries-Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills, Anita Baker, she absolutely sang the jagged sunshine of love’s nature.  She left for us the stories we live in our hearts: loneliness, confusion, failure coupled with the absurdity of happiness, relief and submission when the love we need is the love we receive.

Spotlight: Phyllis Hyman

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