When Danica Hart and Trea Swindle, two self-described “country girls from Mississippi,” began performing as HyperPhlyy, they could scarcely have imagined that, five years later, they’d be called up to the main stage by New Orleans legend Irma Thomas at this year’s French Quarter Festival.
Standing beside their younger cousin Devynn Hart, who joined the group a year ago, they beamed from ear to ear as Thomas—or Miss Irma, as Danica refers to her—introduced the trio to her legion of fans. The three singers, said Thomas, had come to see if there was anything she could teach them. But since they play country music, she added with a laugh, there wasn’t. Afterward, Irma walked back to center stage, smiling broadly as she told the crowd, “I used to look like that!”
Two weeks after the French Quarter Festival, on Easter Sunday, HyperPhlyy are back playing their biweekly gig at DMac’s, an off-the-beaten-path New Orleans bar and grill where Walter “Wolfman” Washington also regularly plays. Outdoors on the patio, a crawfish boil is in full effect. Inside, fans bring shots of Maker’s Mark and Fireball whiskey up to the stage, as the full seven-piece band and its fans celebrate Devynn’s one-year anniversary with the group, the trio’s onstage moment with Irma, and the increasing likelihood that three black women from Mississippi could win national acclaim by playing country music.
Most of the tracks on HyperPhlyy’s forthcoming debut album Out The Mud do indeed fall within the parameters of contemporary country—the double-entendres in “Let’s Truck” alone are the stuff of Nashville music publishers’ dreams—but their music also contains undeniable elements of classic R&B and gospel.
“If we had to be put in a box, we would definitely describe ourselves as country-soul,” says Danica. “We don’t ever really leave out that soul part.”
HyperPhlyy’s roots are in Poplarville, the small Mississippi town that’s featured in the endearing video for the group’s joyfully upbeat autobiographical single “Made for Me.” Harmony-rich songs like the haunting a cappella “Shots Fired,” meanwhile, offer further proof that all three are exceptionally gifted singers, something they didn’t necessarily realize growing up.
“We’re three of 108 grandkids, and the entire family sings,” explains Trea, who back then didn’t consider herself one of the “singers” in the family. “I was building cars and fixing computers, because everybody else knew how to sing.”
But in a town of 2,900 people, career opportunities were less than plentiful and, for musicians, all but nonexistent. “In Poplarville, if you can get a job at the hospital, then you’re doing big things, you know what I mean?” says Danica, who was happy to land a job in its outpatient program, helping elderly people deal with depression and anxiety issues.
Trea, meanwhile, was the first to move an hour south to New Orleans, a decision she made during a much-needed vacation. “It was crazy, because I moved down here on an absolute whim,” she recalls. “I was actually a prison guard at the time, and I called the captain and said, ‘I’m not going back to the jail.’”
Eventually, she convinced Danica to do the same. The two cousins made a list of ten songs, got a battery-powered PA, and were soon drawing large crowds while busking on Royal Street.
“In my mind,” says Danica, “I couldn’t fathom the idea that people were really enjoying what we were doing. And shortly after that, we got invited to play a little club on Chartres Street called the Mahogany Jazz Hall, and then it was like a snowball effect. We’ve just been growing and growing and growing.”
That their cousin Devynn would ultimately complete the trio was, in Danica’s view, preordained. “We were born that way,” she says. “it just took a while for it to come to fruition.”
Back onstage at D-Mac’s, the band plays the first of two sets that combine original material with an eclectic range of covers. They do a heart-stopping version of Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come,” as well as a barn-stomping rendition of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.” “I used to think that, in order to be a redneck, you had to be a certain color,” says Danica as she introduces the latter.
While it’s easy to imagine HyperPhlyy’s beautifully crafted, radio-ready tracks commanding the country music airwaves, it’s also hard to forget how rare it is for black artists to find acceptance, let alone success, in a genre that has been overwhelmingly white. But that may be changing. Last year, Jimmie Allen’s single “Best Shot” made him the first black artist to debut at number one on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. Given their talent and tenacity, the upstart country girls from Mississippi may well be next.