“How Can I Ease The Pain” by Lisa Fischer (1991)

Lisa Fischer is best known as a background singer. She initially gained prominence working for Luther Vandross, and she was a highlight of his live performances and even his videos, obtaining a featured role in 1987’s “Stop to Love” clip. Her work with Luther caught the attention of Mick Jagger, and she was an integral part of the Rolling Stones’ touring lineup for a quarter century.

In 1991, Lisa stepped out on her own as a solo artist, releasing her first single, “How Can I Ease the Pain”, that spring. The spare, yearning ballad topped the R&B charts and made its way into the pop top 40. It also won Lisa the 1991 Grammy Award for Female R&B vocal, an honor she shared with Patti LaBelle. “Ease the Pain” remains one of the most emotionally devastating vocal performances I have ever heard committed to tape. Luther must’ve seen a kindred spirit in Lisa, because much like Mr. Vandross would have, Lisa takes these heartbroken lyrics and completely embodies them. Lisa’s vocal is tightly measured at the top. She sings the verses in almost a whisper, but by the time she hits the second chorus, she’s started to pour on the emotion. This culminates in an anguished howl at the end of the bridge that pierces your soul. And that’s not all folks. There’s a false ending (spoiler!) and then Lisa gathers up her feelings and lets loose with a sustained whisper/scream that will blow your hair back in the opposite direction. It’s such a fierce performance that apparently Lisa felt no desire to top it. Following the Grammy win, she committed to being a full-time background singer and has not recorded a solo album since.

In her brief time as a solo star, though, the woman left a hell of a mark. “How Can I Ease the Pain” is an absolute masterclass.

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