Roberta Flack (born February 10, 1937) is an American singer, songwriter, and musician who is notable for jazz, soul, R&B, and folk music. Flack is best known for her Hot 100 #1 singles “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“, “Killing Me Softly with His Song“, and “Feel Like Makin’ Love“, as well as “Where Is the Love” and “The Closer I Get to You“, two of her many duets with Donny Hathaway. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won the 1973 Grammy Record of the Year, and “Killing Me Softly with His Song” won the same award at the Grammy Awards of 1974. She and U2 are the only artists to win the award in back-to-back years.
Flack was born in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and was raised in Arlington, Virginia. She first discovered the work of African American musical artists when she heard Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke sing in a predominantly African-American Baptist church.
During her early teens, Flack so excelled at classical piano that Howard University awarded her a full music scholarship. She entered Howard University at the age of 15, making her one of the youngest students ever to enroll there. She eventually changed her major from piano to voice, and became an assistant conductor of the university choir. Her direction of a production of Aida received a standing ovation from the Howard University faculty. Flack is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and was made an honorary member of Tau Beta Sigma by the Eta Delta Chapter at Howard University for her outstanding work in promoting music education.
“Killing Me Softly”
Flack became the first African-American student teacher at an all-Caucasian school near Chevy Chase, Maryland. She graduated from Howard University at 19 and began graduate studies in music, but the sudden death of her father forced her to take a job teaching music and English for $2800 a year in Farmville, North Carolina.
Roberta at the 52nd Grammy Awards
Flack then taught school for some years in Washington, DC at Browne Junior High and Rabaut Junior High. She also taught private piano lessons out of her home on Euclid St. NW. During this period, her music career began to take shape on evenings and weekends in Washington, D.C. area night spots. At the Tivoli Club, she accompanied opera singers at the piano. During intermissions, she would sing blues, folk, and pop standards in a back room, accompanying herself on the piano. Later, she performed several nights a week at the 1520 Club, again providing her own piano accompaniment. Around this time, her voice teacher, Frederick “Wilkie” Wilkerson, told her that he saw a brighter future for her in pop music than in the classics. She modified her repertoire accordingly and her reputation spread. Subsequently, a Capitol Hill night club called Mr. Henry’s built a performance area especially for her.
Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway singing the famous duet, “Where Is The Love” -one of my very favorite 70’s tunes!
When Flack did a benefit concert for the Inner City Ghetto Children’s Library Fund, Les McCann happened to be in the audience. He later said on the liner notes of what would be her first album “First Take” noted below, “Her voice touched, tapped, trapped, and kicked every emotion I’ve ever known. I laughed, cried, and screamed for more…she alone had the voice.” Very quickly, he arranged an audition for her with Atlantic Records, during which she played 42 songs in 3 hours for producer Joel Dorn. In November 1968, she recorded 39 song demos in less than 10 hours. Three months later, Atlantic reportedly recorded Roberta’s debut album, First Take, in a mere 10 hours.  Flack later spoke of those studio sessions as a “very naive and beautiful approach…I was comfortable with the music because I had worked on all these songs for all the years I had worked at Mr. Henry’s.”
1972 “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”
Flack’s version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” hit number seventy-six on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.
Flack’s Atlantic recordings did not sell particularly well, until Clint Eastwood chose a song from First Take, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“, for the sound track of his directorial debut Play Misty for Me; it became the biggest hit of the year for 1972 – spending six consecutive weeks at #1 and earning Flack a million-selling gold disc. The First Take album also went to #1 and eventually sold 1.9 million copies in the United States. Eastwood, who paid $2,000 for the use of the song in the film, has remained an admirer and friend of Flack’s ever since. It was awarded the Grammy Award for Record Of The Year in 1973. In 1983, she recorded the end music to the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact at Eastwood’s request.
Flack soon began recording regularly with Donny Hathaway, scoring hits such as the Grammy-winning “Where Is the Love” (1972) and later “The Closer I Get to You” (1978) – both million-selling gold singles. On her own, Flack scored her second #1 hit, “Killing Me Softly with His Song” written by Lori Lieberman in 1973. It was awarded both Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female at the 1974 Grammy Awards. Its parent album was Flack’s biggest-selling disc, eventually earning Double Platinum certification.
Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway, “The Closer I Get To You”
Flack and Hathaway recorded several duets together, including two LPs, until Hathaway’s 1979 suicide.
Flack had a 1982 hit single with “Making Love” (the title track of the 1982 film of the same name), which reached #13. She began working with Peabo Bryson with more limited success, charting as high as #5 on the R&B chart (plus #16 Pop and #4 Adult Contemporary) with “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” in 1983. Her next two singles with Bryson, “You’re Looking Like Love To Me” and “I Just Came Here To Dance,” fared better on adult contemporary (AC) radio than on pop or R&B radio.
In 1986, Flack sang the theme song entitled “Together Through the Years” for the NBC television series, Valerie later known as The Hogan Family. The song was used throughout the show’s six seasons. Oasis was released in 1988 and failed to make an impact with pop audiences, though the title track reached #1 on the R&B chart and a remix of “Uh-Uh Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes)” topped the dance chart in 1989. Flack found herself again in the US Top 10 with the hit song “Set the Night to Music”, a 1991 duet with Jamaican vocalist Maxi Priest that peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #2 AC. Flack’s smooth R&B sound lent itself easily to Easy Listening airplay during the 1970s, and she has had four #1 AC hits.
In 1999, a star with Flack’s name was placed on Hollywood‘s Walk of Fame. That same year, she gave a concert tour in South Africa, to which the final performance was attended by President Nelson Mandela.
In 2010, she appeared on the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, singing a duet of “Where Is The Love” with Maxwell.
Flack is a member of the Artist Empowerment Coalition, which advocates the right of artists to control their creative properties.
In the Bronx section of New York City, the Hyde Leadership Chart School’s after-school music program is called “The Roberta Flack School of Music” and is in partnership with Flack.
Flack is the aunt of the professional ice skater Rory Flack Burghart.
American experimental producer Flying Lotus had a song named after her (‘Robertaflack’) on his ‘Los Angeles’ album.
Quick Bio Facts:
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Killing Me Softly with His Song
Father: Laron LeRoy Flack (b. 11-Oct-1911, d. 12-Jul-1959)
Mother: Irene Flack (b. 28-Sep-1911, d. 17-Jan-1981)
Husband: Stephen Novosel (jazz bassist, m. 1966, div. 1972)
University: BA Music, Howard University (1958)
Teacher: Farmville, NC
Teacher: Washington, DC
Sources: YouTube, Wikipedia, robertaflack.com, nndb.com
Leave a comment
No comments yet.