The Starting Five Diva Debate returns with a musical flair to it. Our two divas this week are beloved by fans around the world but their biggest fan base may come from their hometown of Philadelphia.
Jill Scott and Phyllis Hyman are right up there with some of the greatest female vocalists ever. This week we allow TSF readers to debate and even reminisce on the talents of these two extraordinary women.
In less than a decade Jill Scott went from an aspiring teacher to the current voice of the neo-soul movement. Scott, a native of North Philadelphia mixes the simplicities of everyday life with the complexities concerning matters of the heart. Jill’s first album ‘Who Is Jill Scott: Words and Sounds Volume I‘ remains in heavy rotation in the Ipod of yours truly. Scott goes from fantasizing about a late night rendezvous to get her through the day to homegirl removing her earrings and “gettin’ some vaseline” to straighten out a situation.
Even after four albums – Scott maintains that same edge while displaying the maturity of an artist who know exactly where she’s going. Her current duet with Anthony Hamilton ‘So In Love’ off of her fourth album ‘The Light of The Sun’ has enjoyed great success.
Scott would collaborate with heavy hitters in the Hip-Hop industry such as Common and The Roots. She remains active in her poetry and spoken word which was used in collaboration with George Benson and Al Jarreau’s ‘God Bless The Child’. Scott began pursuing a career in acting in 2000 and it has paid off handsomely. Scott’s big break came in 2007 when she was one of the focal characters in Tyler Perry’s ‘Why Did I Get Married’ , in 2008 she was given the lead role in the HBO series The No.1 Women’s Detective Agency. In 2010, Scott returned for her role as Sheila in ‘Why Did I Get Married Too’.
No artist gave us a glimpse into their soul more than the late, great Phyllis Hyman. Born in Philadelphia, Pa, Hyman grew up in Pittsburgh. After stints with smaller groups Hyman caught her first break in 1974 when she appeared in the film Lenny. In 1976 she teamed up with Norm Conners on his album You Are My Starship, they were successful with the remake of The Stylistics’ ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’.
In the late 1970′s Hyman married Larry Alexander the short-lived marriage ended in divorce and also ended their professional acquaintance, this was the first of many heartbreaks for Hyman that played out in her music and personal life. In 1981 Phyllis was awarded a Tony award nomination for best supporting actress in Sophisticated Ladies - a musical tribute to Duke Ellington. Her single, ’Can’t We Fall In Love Again was her first Top 10 hit.
Hyman’s career would be in a state of flux until 1985 when she would sign on with Philadelphia International Records. Under Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff she would enjoy her greatest success. Her album ‘Living All Alone’ produced the singles ‘Old Friend’, the title track as well as other singles ‘Screaming At The Moon’ and ‘You Just Don’t Know‘. In between albums, she would perform in Spike Lee’s motion picture ‘School Daze’ Hyman’s last album ‘Prime of My Life’ produced her first Billboard Top 100 hit, ‘Don’t Wanna Change The World’ as well as two more Top 10 singles, ‘Living In Confusion’ and ‘When You Get Right Down To It’.
On June 30, 1995, Hyman tragically took her own life. Even in her passing Phyllis Hyman’s music remains an inspiration to many of her old fans as well as those that missed her prime years.