Radio host and music loving friend, Reggie ‘The Jazzman’ Mitchell, posted a status today, where he reflects upon his daughter’s birthday coinciding with Phyllis Hyman’s suicide on June 30th, 1995. He also posted this article, which gives an insight to Hyman’s career and personal struggles, which seem to have been closely intertwined with some of the nature of the recording industry that Neal describes as sexist and patriarchical.
I’ve spent the larger part of my morning finding music videos of some of Phyllis Hyman’s material and work as well as interviews, where she talks about her album Living All Alone and also gives a candid account of her personal – specifically emotional – life and some of the experiences with the business as well as the effects they had on her. Apart from being impressed with her business acumen coupled with a sense of responsibility for the African-American community in the U.S. I am also quite moved by the amount of personal strength and stamina she displays in those interviews and by sharing her experiences in the business as a black – for lack of a better word – recording artist during a time, when the business knew nothing else but to exploit those, who made and make a large chunk of the business in the first place. Has this changed at all? From everything I see, I’m afraid, it hasn’t. At least not with the remaining major labels. What’s worse, latest technology and modified consumer habits make it far too easy to rob music of its (monetary) value. We’re living in a time, where a piece of music will generate less than a dollar per item – and even far less for those, who regularly spend hours on end on writing, recording and producing such a piece of music.
The challenge in hopefully reversing this – or at the very least in alleviating the devastating monetary side effects we have been seeing over the past decade – will be in finding ways, which add some value to the music again. It is not only about how to effectively place, promote and market music. The audience/consumer – will have a say as to what extent we’ll be able to add such value.
In coming back to Phyllis Hyman: I’m in awe over her catalogue of legendary recordings she left for us to enjoy. I think she set a fine example as to how to survive in this often cruel business. I just wish she could have done with less personal suffering than becomes apparent in the materials I found on her. R.I.P., Ms. Hyman.