One of the most blessed aspects of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture is that they enable us to remember our own, those artists who we treasure as dynamic and uniquely unforgettable. Last month in celebration of Black History, seven vocalists accompanied by eight talented musicians, led by the fiercely gifted Alton Merrell on piano, set the stage on fire in a tribute to Phyllis Hyman, an R&B songstress born and raised in Pittsburgh who was gone from us far too soon.
PHYLLIS HYMAN TRIBUTE
The event was hosted by Lynne Hayes-Freeland, reporter for KDKA-TV news, and host of a weekly production, “The Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show.” Hayes-Freeland underscored the great legacy of Hyman, and the vital importance of promoting mental health in the African-American community. The only person missing from the standing room only crowd was Hyman herself, but the spirit of her music, the elegance of her style, and the soulful stirring of her voice were all magnificently present.
The show starred singers from the Pittsburgh area, including Laila Bey, Tamara Faulkner, Teresa Hawthorne, Deborah Moncrief, Sonya Carter, Marki Fields, and Shawnee Louise, a conscious decision by the AWC to honor Hyman’s Pittsburgh roots.
“It was by design that we selected the people we did. Each singer is unique. It just so happens that a few look like Phyllis. We encouraged them to make each song [they sang] their own. There is a great range of experience on the stage. Some have performed in Italy, some in their local church. But what’s consistent is their love for Phyllis, who was an [unique] individual. No one sang like her back then and it was a different sound for her time. She opened the door for [today’s popular singers] and local artists to be the artists they want to be,” said Treshea Wade, manager of Communications and e-marketing for the AWC.
Each songstress brought her standout individuality to the stage. Moncrief, who sang “No One Can Love You More” and “Old Friend,” with a powerful, crisp range that will, hopefully, catapult her to her next level of fame, embodied Hyman’s glorious stature and ladylike style, accented by her feather-trimmed hats and fur-trimmed cuffs. Carter sang one of the favorites of the evening, “I Refuse to Be Lonely,” and moved the crowd to a standing ovation.
Hawthorne crooned softly but mightily and possessed the stage with her class and overall graceful persona. Faulkner, who kicked off her shoes and captured Hyman’s sensuality, to Louise who rocked the house with “Living Inside Your Love,” to Bey who sang “Somewhere in the Lifetime” prettily and powerfully, like her life depended on it, to Fields who scatted like a lovely songbird, this was a night to remember.
Many of Hyman’s family members were present. Sister Jeannie Hyman of East Liberty, said “I participated in the auditioning. These are women who don’t necessarily sing all the time, so we are impressed. Phyllis deserved this. She would be pleased and honored.”