Thursday, March 20, 2014

TAKE TWO: ROBERTA FLACK


There doesn't seem to be many artists like Roberta Flack in pop music anymore.  This classically trained musician is able to create colorful sounds that are silky smooth and filled with great passion which appears to be deceptively effortless. She may not possess a big voice but Roberta Flack certainly knows how to use what she has for maximum effect.

Although she came from a musical family in North Carolina and at fifteen was one of the youngest students to ever be enrolled at Howard University to the music program, Flack first became a school teacher in Washington D.C. She later taught private piano lessons before venturing out herself to perform at small clubs around town. Les McCann, a jazz performer, caught Flack's act one evening and was highly impressed. He arranged for her to meet with executives at Atlantic Records and after a three-hour audition, Roberta Flack was signed and her debut album was quickly recorded.

"First Take" was released in 1969 and received little notice until actor, Clint Eastwood used a song from the album, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" for his directorial debut, "Play Misty For Me" in 1972. This song went on to reach the top of the pop chart, sell over a million copies and won a Grammy Award for Record of The Year. Flack hit number one again the following year with "Killing Me Softly With His Song" which also won the Grammy for Record of The Year making her the only artist at the time to have won that honor consecutively (U2 would later also achieve this feat). The song became popular again when The Fugees gave it a hip-hop spin in 1996 and took it back to the top of the charts in the U.S. and Britain.

Roberta Flack is also best known for her musical duets beginning with soul legend, Donny Hathaway. Some of their big hits include "Where is the Love" and "The Closer I Get To You" which both sold over a million copies. They recorded two albums together and won a Grammy for Best Vocal By A Duo Or Group before Hathaway's tragic death in 1979. Flack would also find more success from duets with Peabo Bryson ("Tonight I Celebrate My Love") and Maxi Priest ("Set The Night To Music").

Although her output has slowed down, Roberta Flack has continued to tour and make new music. Her last album, "Let It Be Roberta: Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles" was released in 2012. It was slightly challenging to narrow down but here are my two favorite songs by Roberta Flack:

"Feel Like Makin' Love" - Roberta Flack (1974)

"The Closer I Get To You" - Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway (1978)

As a bonus, here are the Fugees with Roberta Flack performing their hit song live at the 1996 MTV Music Awards:

YOUR SONG

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