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Classy, urbane, reserved, smooth, and sophisticated -- all of these terms have been used to describe the music of Roberta Flack, particularly her string of romantic, light jazz ballad hits in the 1970s, which continue to enjoy popularity on MOR-oriented adult contemporary stations. Flack was the daughter of a church organist and started playing piano early enough to get a music scholarship and eventually, a degree from Howard University. After a period of student teaching, Flack was discovered singing at a club by jazz musician Les McCann and signed to Atlantic.
Her first two albums -- 1969's First Take and 1970's Chapter Two -- were well received but produced no hit singles; however, that all changed when a version of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," from her first LP, was included in the soundtrack of the 1971 film Play Misty for Me. The single zoomed to number one in 1972 and remained there for six weeks, becoming that year's biggest hit. Flack followed it with the first of several duets with Howard classmate Donny Hathaway, "Where Is the Love." "Killing Me Softly with His Song" became Flack's second number one hit (five weeks) in 1973, and after topping the charts again in 1974 with "Feel Like Makin' Love," Flack took a break from performing to concentrate on recording and charitable causes.
She charted several more times over the next few years, as she did with the Top Ten 1977 album Blue Lights in the Basement -- featuring "The Closer I Get to You," a number two ballad with Hathaway. A major blow was struck in 1979 when her duet partner, one of the most creative voices in soul music, committed suicide. Devastated, Flack eventually found another creative partner in Peabo Bryson, with whom she toured in 1980. The two recorded together in 1983, scoring a hit duet with "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love."
Flack spent the remainder of the '80s touring and performing, often with orchestras, and also several times with Miles Davis. She returned to the Top Ten once more in 1991 with "Set the Night to Music," a duet with Maxi Priest that appeared that year on the album of the same name. Her Roberta full-length, featuring interpretations of jazz and popular standards, followed in 1994. As she continued into the 21st century, Flack recorded infrequently but released albums like 2012's Let It Be Roberta: Roberta Flack Sings the Beatles, which showed that her poise and balanced singing had aged well. Varese Sarabande released a lovingly remixed version of Flack's fine 1997 holiday album Christmas Songs (it had originally appeared from Capitol Records under the title The Christmas Album) that same year, adding in an additional track, "Cherry Tree Carol."
Roberta Cleopatra Flack (born February 10, 1937 or 1939) is an American singer, and musician who is notable for jazz, Pop, R&B, and folk music. She is best known for her classic #1 singles "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", "Killing Me Softly with His Song", and "Feel Like Makin' Love"; and for "Where Is the Love" and "The Closer I Get to You", two of her many duets with the late Donny Hathaway.
Flack was the first to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year two consecutive times. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" won at the 1973 Grammys and "Killing Me Softly with His Song" won at the 1974 Grammys. She remains the only solo artist to have accomplished this feat, and only U2, who did it in 2001 with "Beautiful Day" and in 2002 with "Walk On", has done it since.
Flack lived with a musical family, born in Black Mountain, North Carolina to parents Laron LeRoy (October 11, 1911 – July 12, 1959) and Irene Flack (September 28, 1911 – January 17, 1981) a church organist, on February 10 of either 1937 or 1939 (sources differ) and 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.
When Flack was 9, she started taking an interest in playing the piano, and during her early teens, Flack so excelled at classical piano that Howard University awarded her a full music scholarship. By age 15, she entered Howard University, 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.
Roberta Flack became a student teacher at a 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 Flack Page". Soulwalking.co.uk. 1937-02-10. Retrieved 2012-11-11. "Robert Flack profile at". Biography.com. Retrieved August 1, 2012. Steve Huey (1939-02-10). "Roberta Flack | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-23. "Roberta Flack". Roberta Flack. Retrieved 2012-11-11.
ContentsCareer1.1 Early career1.2 1970s1.3 1980s1.4 Later career
Before becoming a professional singer-songwriter, Flack taught school in Washington, D.C. 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. Flack began singing professionally after being hired to perform regularly at Mr. Henry's Restaurant, in Capitol Hill, Washington, DC in 1968.
Les McCann discovered Flack singing and playing jazz in a Washington nightclub. 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."
Flack's cover version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" hit number seventy-six on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. Her Atlantic recordings did not sell particularly well, until actor/director 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.
Roberta 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. Flack and Hathaway recorded several duets together, including two LPs, until Hathaway's 1979 death.
On her own, Flack scored her second #1 hit in 1973, "Killing Me Softly with His Song" written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, and originally performed by Lori Lieberman. 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. 1974 also saw Flack sing the lead on a Sherman Brothers song called "Freedom", which featured prominently at the opening and closing of the movie Huckleberry Finn.
Roberta Flack had a 1982 hit single with "Making Love", written by Burt Bacharach (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 the Hollywood 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.
In February 2012, Flack released Let it Be Roberta, an album of Beatles covers including "Hey Jude" and "Let it Be". It is her first recording in over eight years. Flack knew John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as both households moved in 1975 into the The Dakota apartment building in New York City, and had apartments across the hall from each other. Flack has stated that she has already been asked to do a second album of Beatles covers. She is currently involved in an interpretative album of the Beatles' classics."Mr. Henry’s Restaurant - History Summary". Mrhenrysrestaurant.com. Retrieved 2014-05-23. "Mr. Henry’s Restaurant - Home". Mrhenrysrestaurant.com. Retrieved 2014-05-23. Cite error: The named reference Soulwaking.co.uk was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference ALLMUSIC was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 312. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. McGillagan (1999), p.194 Pond, Steve (12 June 1997). "Singer's Career Was Softly Killed By Bad Luck And Insecurity". The Deseret News. Retrieved 10 April 2011. Cite error: The named reference bio was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Roberta Flack Gearing Up for Release of New Album "LET IT BE ROBERTA: ROBERTA FLACK SINGS THE BEATLES," an Album of Beatles' Classics". Yahoo! Finance. 2012-01-17. "Roberta Flack's Long And Winding Road". NPR. February 18, 2012. "Roberta Flack Biography". Robertaflack.com. Retrieved 2014-05-23.
Flack is a member of the Artist Empowerment Coalition, which advocates the right of artists to control their creative properties. She is also a spokeswoman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; her appearance in commercials for the ASPCA featured "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". 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, who founded the school, which provides free music education to underprivileged students.
Between 1966 to 1972, she was married to Stephen Novosel. Flack is the aunt of the professional ice skater Rory Flack Burghart. She is mother to rhythm and blues musician Bernard Wright.
According to a DNA analysis, she descended, mainly, from people of Cameroon.
Concerns about her health as she passed age 60, drove Flack at age 62, to lose more than 30 pounds. Her method: a weight-loss program that included mesotherapy, a procedure practiced mainly overseas that includes multiple injections into the mesoderm—the middle layer of skin—of drugs that supposedly break down fat. Under treatment by Manhattan Dr. Lionel Bissoon, one of 20 mesotherapy practitioners in the U.S., Flack says, she noticed results immediately. "I saw my chins disappear," she says. "The fat dissolved in front of my eyes. I could feel my ribs! I haven't felt them since I was 15.""Roberta Flack School of Music". Robertaflack.com. Retrieved 2012-11-11. Cite error: The named reference Soulwaking.co.uk was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Jacobson, Robert. "Roberta Flack - Biography". encyclopedia.com. encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2015-01-14. DeCurtis, Anthony. "Two Seasoned Voices, Together Raised for a Cause". nytimes.com. New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-14. "Roberta Flack". prabook.org. Prabook. Retrieved 2015-01-14. "Growing Interest in DNA-Based Genetic Testing Among African American with Historic Election of President Elect Barack Obama". Prweb.com. Retrieved 2012-11-11. Adato, A., Stoynoff, N., Nolan, C., & Breu, G. (2003). Scaling Down. People, 59(2), 109
In pop culture
Her collaboration with Donny Hathaway is mentioned in the song "What A Catch, Donnie" on Fall Out Boy's fifth studio album, Folie à Deux.
American experimental producer Flying Lotus had a song named after her ("RobertaFlack") on his Los Angeles album.
In 1991, Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam recorded a covered version of "And So It Goes" called "微涼" in the album 夢了、瘋了、倦了. Although it was not officially promoted by the record company, it was played by many DJs.
In the Red Hot Chili Peppers' song "My Lovely Man", on the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Anthony Kiedis sang "I listen to Roberta Flack, but I know you won't come back."
She is a favourite singer of Vic Wilcox, manager of an engineering firm in David Lodge's campus/industrial novel "Nice Work", winner of the Sunday Express Book of the Year award in 1988."Flying Lotus - Los Angeles at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2012-05-13.
Flack was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Flack has received four awards from thirteen nominations.
American Music Awards
The American Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony created by Dick Clark in 1973. Flack has received one award from six nominations."2009 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012. "Past Winners Search". Grammy.com. Retrieved 2012-11-11.