30 Days of Musical Blackness With VSB, Day 20: Phyllis Hyman, 'Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)'

Photo: Buddah

There’s almost no way I could do a series like this without at least one nod to my second-favorite singer of forever, Phyllis Hyman. Turns out, almost four years ago, before VSB became part of The Root and before we started writing full time, I wrote everything I was going to write today in a previous article. So I’m going to quote myself at length here:

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. ...

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“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) heard 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 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, which would be released in a few weeks. Little did I know my life was going to change. ...

Phyllis Hyman “Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)“ (1978)

“The very first song on that album is “Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)“. This song took me from being a person who didn’t know who Phyllis Hyman was to feeling a personal loss to my life and soul in four minutes and 19seconds. 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 35 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 10 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.

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Kenny G.

“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. ...

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Since 2006, Phyllis Hyman has been in constant rotation in both my life and stereo. ... My life has been made better by the addition of Phyllis Hyman. Her music, her soul, her voice, her passion, her authenticity. Just her.”

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About the author

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.