Wednesday, August 13, 2008 1:46:08 AM
Roberta Flack (born February 10, 1937) is an American singer-songwriter and musician who is notable in the areas of jazz, soul, and folk. Flack is best known for singles such as "Killing Me Softly with His Song", "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", "Where Is the Love?" (one of her many duets with Donny Hathaway), and "Feel Like Makin' Love". "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.
Flack 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 black Baptist church.
In her early teens, Flack so excelled at classical piano that Howard University awarded her a full music scholarship. She matriculated at 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.
Flack became the first black student teacher at an all-white 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.
Flack then taught school for some years in Montgomery County, Maryland. 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 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.
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, whose final concert was attended by President Nelson Mandela.
Flack is a member of the Artist Empowerment Coalition, which advocates the right of artists to control their creative properties. Flack is the aunt of the professional ice skater Rory Flack Burghardt.
Recording and performing
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 of 1968, she recorded 39 song demos in less than 10 hours. Three months later, Atlantic recorded her 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 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 a #1 hit in 1972. Eastwood has remained an admirer and friend of Flack's ever since. In 1983, she recorded the end music to the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact.
Flack soon began recording regularly with Donny Hathaway, scoring hits such as "Where is the Love" (1971) and "The Closer I Get to You" (1978). On her own, Flack scored her second #1 hit, "Killing Me Softly with His Song" (1973; see 1973 in music). Flack and Hathaway recorded several duets together, including two LPs, until Hathaway's 1979 suicide. She had a 1982 hit single with "Making Love", 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. After 1988's Oasis failed to make an impact with Pop audiences (the title track did reach #1 on the R&B chart), Flack found herself in the US Top 10 with the hit song "Set the Night to Music", a 1991 duet with Jamaican vocalist Maxi Priest, 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.