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Flack, Roberta 1940–

Roberta Flack 1940

Singer, songwriter

Interested Mainly in Music and Food

Demo Led to Atlantic Contract

Slew Audiences Softly

Celebrated Love With Bryson

Selected discography

Sources

So timeless is the appeal of Roberta Flacks soulful singing that some of her hits of the 1970s are now being embraced by a generation of listeners far too young to remember when those hits were current. Her style, which has remained fairly consistent over the decades, contains hints of jazz, gospel, and blues. Flacks music has a broad appeal that makes a mockery of the demographic borders of race, age, and gender.

Flack was born on February 10, 1940, in Black Mountain, a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. Both of her parents, Laron and Irene Flack, were skilled musicians. Laron was a self-taught jazz piano stylist, while Irene, with the benefit of a few formal lessons, played piano for the local Methodist church. At an early age Roberta picked out melodies while sitting in her parents laps. When she was about five years old, the family moved to Virginia and settled in Arlington, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Laron found work as a draftsman and Irene got a job cleaning and cooking at a high school, so Flack grew up in a comfortable working-class setting.

Interested Mainly in Music and Food

Flack began taking formal piano lessons at the age of nine. At 13, her rendition of Carry Me Back to Old Virginny earned her second prize in a state-wide piano competition among black students. Her only other interests were church, food, and school. As a result, she became a very religious, obese scholar. I weighed over 200 pounds. All I did was play the piano and eat all day and study and go to church, she was quoted as saying in a 1971 Ebony article.

Flack graduated from high school at 15 and earned a piano scholarship to Howard University. After a short time, however, she switched her major from piano to music education, which required her to study voice in addition to instrumental music. Flack graduated from Howard in 1958 with a B.A. in music education and began working on a masters degree, but when her father died in 1959, she quit school in order to go to work to help the family out financially. Still only a teenager, Flack took a job teaching English at an all-black rural school in Farmville, North Carolina. The following year, she found a position teaching junior high

At a Glance

Born February 10, 1940, in Black Mountain, NC; daughter of Laron (a draftsman) and Irene (a cook and cleaning person) Flack; married Stephen Novosel (a jazz bassist), 1966 (divorced 1972); children: Bernard Wright. Education: Howard University, BA, 1958; University of Massachusetts, postgraduate work in music education.

Career: English teacher, Farmville, NC, 1959; English and music teacher, Washington, D.C, public schools, 1960-67; began performing in local clubs, mid-1960s; became full-time performer, 1967; Atlantic Records recording artist, 1968; released first album, First Take, 1969; starred in ABC television special, The First Time Ever, 1973; Has toured extensively worldwide since 1969, Has also scored for motion pictures and television, performed as a concert pianist, and conducted opera; formed own music publishing and record production company.

Awards: Down Beat Female Vocalist of the year, 1971-73; Roberta Flack Human Kindness Day, Washington, D.C, 1972; Grammy Awards for: Record of the Year, 1972, for The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and 1973, for Killing Me Softly With His Song; Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo (with Donny Hathaway), 1972, for Where Is the Love?; Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Female Solo Artist, 1973, for Killing Me Softly.

Addresses: Record company Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; Booking agencyAssociated Booking Corp., 1995 Broadway, Suite 501, New York, NY 10023.

grades in the Washington D.C. school system, where she spent the next seven years.

Meanwhile, music remained a central part of Flacks life outside of the workplace. She directed church choirs and began taking voice lessons, concentrating primarily on opera, with Frederick Wilkie Wilkerson. She also began taking on voice students of her own. Eventually, Wilkerson convinced Flack to give pop music a try. At first she considered the suggestion an insult, but over time she began making appearances at local clubs, both as a pop singer and as a piano accompanist for others. By 1967 Flack had gained a healthy local following, and was singing five nights a week at a nightclub on K Street in Washington. She was discovered there by Henry Yaffe, who brought her to his trendy new Georgetown club Mr. Henrys. By 1968 she was drawing such a crowd to the club that Yaffe opened a special room at his other location near Capitol Hill to showcase her talent. She also found time for a social life during this period, culminating in her 1966 marriage to Stephen Novosel, a jazz bassist.

Demo Led to Atlantic Contract

As Flacks style continued to mature, she began to draw the attention of many show-biz types, who swarmed to hear her perform when they were in town. Among those celebrity admirers was jazz pianist Les McCann. McCann was so impressed with Flacks singing that he made a demo tape and took it to Atlantic Records, which immediately signed Flack to a recording contract. Flacks debut album, First Take, was released in late 1969. It sold well over 100,000 copies, but that was only a warmup for what was to take place over the next few years.

Flack emerged as a superstar of major proportions in 1970. Her follow-up album, Chapter Two, sold over a million copies within a few months of its release. Flack was suddenly in demand for live performances everywhere. She played at the Montreux Pop Festival in Switzerland, the Newport Jazz Festival, and at other important festivals and top nightclubs across the United States. She also created a sensation with her guest performance on a 1970 Bill Cosby television special. She followed that with many other TV appearances. Flack ended the year with a triumphant concert in front of a capacity crowd at New Yorks Philharmonic Hall in December. Downbeat magazine named Flack Female Vocalist of the Year for 1970, breaking a string of 18 straight years in which Ella Fitzgerald received that honor.

Flacks third album, Quiet Fire, was released in 1971, and it quickly won both great critical acclaim and strong sales. Later that year, Flacks single The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was used in the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood film Play Misty for Me. Its exposure in that movie helped catapult the song to the top of the pop charts. The song earned Flack her first Grammy award in 1972, and also sparked a new wave of sales for her first album, on which it had originally appeared. Although 1972 was a tumultuous year in Flacks personal life, with her marriage to Novosel ending in divorce, it was another banner year in her professional life. She initiated an ongoing collaboration with singer Donny Hathaway with the release of their joint album Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. That album spawned the hit single Youve Got a Friend. The pair also earned a Grammy for the single Where is the Love? as Best Vocal Performance by a Duet, Group, or Chorus.

Slew Audiences Softly

Flack shone as one of the music industrys brightest stars through the middle part of the 1970s. By this time, her sound was beginning to veer away from her gospel and jazz roots toward more of a middle-of-the-road pop sensibility. Her 1973 album Killing Me Softly, which featured the number one hit Killing Me Softly With His Song, went gold within two weeks of its release. She earned Grammies for both the single and the album. Flack topped the charts again the following year with the single Feel Like Makin Love, and her 1975 album of the same title quickly went gold, like its predecessors. Following this string of successes, Flack decided to slow down the pace of her recording career in order to both assume more creative control over her projects, and to spend more time pursuing other interests. She began doctorate studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She also launched her own music production and publishing company, and became involved in composing and producing musical scores for television and motion pictures.

Even with her energies distributed more widely, Flack was able to put out another successful album, Blue Lights in the Basement, in 1977. Although critics were generally more reserved in their praise than they had been in the past, Blue Lights was among the top selling albums of the year. It included a duet with Hathaway, The Closer I Get to You, which reached number two on the pop charts. Flack joined forces again with Hathaway a few years later to record the album Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, which included the hits You Are My Heaven and Back Together Again. Before the albums 1980 release, however, this fruitful collaboration came to an abrupt end when Hathaway jumped to his death from the 15th floor of a New York hotel.

Celebrated Love With Bryson

Flack wasted little time in finding another male singing partner. She recorded two albums in the early 1980s with vocalist Peabo Bryson, Live and More (1980) and Born to Love (1983). The latter album contained the major hit Tonight I Celebrate My Love. Meanwhile, Flack kept busy composing and producing the soundtrack for the 1981 movie Bustin Loose, starring Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson. She also released two Atlantic albums in 1982: Im The One, and a collection of greatest hits called The Best of Roberta Flack. During the mid-1980s, Flack was absent from the recording studio. She returned after a five-year hiatus to make the album Oasis in 1988. Oasis, whose title track rose to number one on the R&B charts, represented a bit of a shift in musical strategy. It was a much more heavily-produced album than her previous efforts, although the intimacy and depth of her vocals was as clear as ever. The album featured support from a host of celebrity collaborators that included Quincy Jones, Maya An-gelou, Ashford & Simpson, Marvin Hamlisch, and Bren-da Russell.

1991 found Flack in the studio once again. The resulting album, Set the Night to Music, produced yet another top ten hit in the title track, a duet with Maxi Priest. In 1994 Flack co-produced Roberta, a Grammy-nominated collection of jazz, blues, and pop classics celebrating her 25th year as an Atlantic recording artist. Two years later, Flack found herself in the limelight again, though not through her own efforts. When the popular hip-hop act The Fugees scored a huge hit with its cover version of Killing Me Softly With His Song, Flack was suddenly introduced to new generation of listeners, many of whom had not even been born when she first recorded the song more than twenty years earlier. She even made a cameo appearance in the Fugees video.

Taking their cue from the Fugees, other younger artists have begun covering classic Flack hits. By now a performer of legendary status, Flack continues to perform concerts for adoring audiences at nightclubs, concert halls, festivals, and in other settings. She has also continued to produce great music through collaborations with other artists. In 1997 she performed a series of concerts in five cities with folksinger Judy Collins to benefit the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University and a handful of other breast cancer organizations. As one of the premier pop vocalists of the last thirty years, Roberta Flacks voice has penetrated deeply into the consciousness of American popular culture, and will likely remain there for years to come.

Selected discography

(albums)

First Take, Atlantic, 1969.

Chapter Two, Atlantic, 1970.

Quiet Fire, Atlantic, 1971.

Killing Me Softly, Atlantic, 1973.

Feel Like Makin Love, Atlantic, 1975.

Blue Lights in the Basement, Atlantic, 1977.

Roberta Flack, Atlantic, 1978.

BustinLoose (soundtrack), MCA, 1981.

Best of Roberta Flack, Atlantic, 1981.

Im the One, Atlantic, 1982.

Oasis, Atlantic, 1988.

Set the Night to Music, Atlantic, 1991.

Roberta, Atlantic, 1994.

(with Donny Hathaway)

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, Atlantic, 1972.

Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, Atlantic, 1980.

(with Pcabo Bryson)

Live and More, Atlantic, 1981.

Born to Love, Capitol, 1983.

Sources

Billboard, August 27, 1994, p. 12.

Ebony, January 1971, p. 54.

Essence, December 1982, p. 58.

High Fidelity, May 1978, p. 121.

Interview, May1996, p. 76.

New York Times, March 23, 1997, p. 34.

People Weekly, October 9, 1978, p. 124; June 17, 1996, p. 65.

Saturday Review, June 17, 1972.

Time, June 5, 1972, p. 73; May 12, 1975, p. 62.

Robert R. Jacobson

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Flack, Roberta

Roberta Flack

Singer, songwriter, pianist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

When Roberta Flacks debut album, First Take, appeared in 1969, a war-weary public embraced the mellow sound: Flacks warm, velvety voice weaving intimate ballads, touched by the vitality of gospel and jazz. Also including rock, swing, and folk songs in her repertoire, the performer challenged the conventions of popular black music at the time, opening the door for the musical innovations of succeeding black artists like Stevie Wonder, Maurice White, and Marvin Gaye. A canny judge of musical material, Flack enjoyed a string of Number 1 hit singles during the early 1970s, and became known in the industry not only for her outstanding artistry but for her exacting professionalism and dedication.

No stranger to taking several months and studios to complete an album, Flack once insisted that her record company recall 500,000 singles of her Killing Me Softly With His Song so that she could provide a better ending. Becoming increasingly involved in all aspects of the music business, the singer has selected, arranged, conducted, and edited her own recording material since the mid-1970s, engaging in music publishing and producing as well. Always appreciative of talented new songwriters and singers, she has helped launch the careers of vocalists like Danny Hathaway and Peabo Bryson by performing and recording with them. Flack explained her artistic independence in The Best of the Music Makers: I am going to be who and what I am, not what agents, promoters, record companies, producers, or the public would have me be. When my songs come out, I have to be able to listen to them with out having to duck under the car seat.

Musically gifted as a child, Flack began taking piano lessons at the age of nine, and by thirteen had won second place in a state-wide piano contest for black students. Academically gifted as well, she skipped several grades in school, graduating at the age of fifteen. Entering Howard University on a piano scholarship, Flack eventually switched to music education, which required both vocal and instrumental training. It was then that her beautiful voice was recognized as first-rate classical material, butself-conscious about her overweight, and eager to arouse in others the pleasure and excitement music stirred in herFlack continued to pursue a career in education.

Eighteen years old and degree in hand, she took her first teaching post at a segregated chool in Farmville, North Carolina, where many of the students were poor and regularly missed school to work in the fields; some of Flacks students were older than she was. Nonetheless, they were anxious to learn all their teacher put before them, and Flack became totally immersed in their lives: directing the school choir, supervising the

For the Record

Born February 10, 1940, in Black Mountain, N.C., raised in Arlington, Va.; daughter of Zaron (a draftsman) and Irene (a domestic and cook) Flack; married Stephen Novosel (a jazz bassist), 1966 (divorced, 1972). Education: Howard University, B.A., 1958, postgraduate studies in music education; doctoral work at University of MassachusettsAmherst.

Began piano lessons at age nine; later trained in operatic vocal technique; teacher of music, English, and math at segregated school in Farmville, N.C., for a year in the early 1960s; music teacher in three junior high schools in Washington, D.C., c. 1961-67; began playing piano and singing part-time in local clubs, mid-1960s; full-time performer, 1967; recording artist, 1969. Performances include concert tours, jazz festivals, television specials and motion-picture soundtracks (Play Misty for Me, Bustin Loose, If Ever I See You Again, Making Love ). Has scored for motion pictures and television, performed as a concert pianist, and conducted opera; engaged in music publishing and record producing; prepared a textbook for educators on understanding ghetto language.

Awards: Named female vocalist of the year by down beat magazine, 1971-73; Washington, D.C., celebrated Roberta Flack Human Kindness Day, April 22, 1972; Grammy Awards for record of the year, 1972, for The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and 1973, for Killing Me Softly With His Song; Grammy Awards for best pop vocal performance by a duo (with Donny Hathaway), 1972, for Where Is the Love?, and for best pop vocal performance by a female solo artist, 1973, for Killing Me Softly.

Addresses: Record company c/o Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10019.

cheerleaders, creating special classes for the mentally and physically impaired.

For the next six years Flack taught music at three different junior high schools in Washington, D.C. In her spare time she directed church choirs, instructed voice students, and provided piano accompaniment for singers at local clubs; eventually it was she who was doing the singing. Before long she was a favorite pop vocalist at the fashionable clubs in the capital, her fans including such entertainers as Burt Bacharach, Woody Allen, and Bill Cosby. Jazz pianist Les McCann brought Flack to the attention of Atlantic Records, and the singer signed a recording contract in 1969. While First Take sold respectably, it was Flacks appearance on comedian Cosbys 1970 television special that brought her national celebrity; captivating her audience, the vocalist sold more than one million copies of her next LP, Chapter Two, and of the subsequent album Quiet Fire. In 1971, down beat magazine named Flack female vocalist of the year, ending the nearly two-decade reign of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald.

In the summer of 1971 Flack and vocalist Hathaway cut the hit single Youve Got a Friend. Their joint gold album Roberta Flack and Danny Hathaway appeared a year later; the duo won a Grammy Award for their rendition of Where Is the Love? Stereo Review critic Phyl Garland deemed the collaborators perfectly matched,sharing the same sweetly flowing, honeyed texture and firm gospel tradition. (The two singers continued to perform together until Hathaways apparent suicide in 1979.)

Flack earned a second Grammy in 1972 for First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, a song originally appearing on her first albumand given new life on the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood motion picture, Play Misty for Me. Reissued as a single, the song soared to number one on the charts (and Flacks debut LP belatedly went gold); it was even reported that U.S. astronauts took a copy of the dreamy ballad on their first moon mission to calm their nerves. The next year brought Flack similar success, with two additional Grammies for another Number 1 hit, Killing Me Softly with His Song. Her luck with smart, stylish singles continuing, Feel Like Makin Love topped the charts in 1974.

By the mid-1970s Flack began to take over the creative aspects of her recording career, and, prey to her perfectionism, her records became less frequent. Other interests also claimed her attention: scoring for motion pictures and television, music publishing and record producing, doctoral work in education and linguistics. During the early 1980s the vocalist teamed with singer/songwriter Bryson for several successful duet recordings; their 1983 album Bom to Love introduced the hit Tonight, I Celebrate My Love. Garland observed thatwhere Hathaway shared Flacks earlier, gospel-rooted formBryson is more in tune with Flacks current style, which is closer to middle-of-theroad pop modified by the smooth textures and lilting rhythms of Sixties soul music.

The critic added that Flacks current mode sacrifices some of her previous depth for a broader, mass appeal, but she is still a serious artist operating on a high level, and she still has the same honey-ripened voice and velvety style. Reviewing the singers 1988 album, Oasis, Garland noted further changes: a lot of production, reflecting Flacks decision to speak to a new generation in its own language. While finding the vocalists gift for creating a sense of intimacy some-what compromised here, Garland nonetheless concluded: Flacks ability to communicate directly with the listener remains intact. In spite of the gaudier trappings, she is still a class act.

Selected discography

Albums

First Take, Atlantic, 1969.

Chapter Two, Atlantic, 1970.

Quiet Fire, Atlantic, 1971.

Killing Me Softly, Atlantic, 1973.

Feel Like Makin Love, Atlantic, 1975.

Blue Lights in the Basement, Atlantic, 1977.

Roberta Flack, Atlantic, 1978.

Bustin Loose (soundtrack), MCA, 1981.

Best of Roberta Flack, Atlantic, 1981.

Im the One, Atlantic, 1982.

(With saxophonist Sadao Watanabe) Rendezvous, Elektra, 1984.

Oasis, Atlantic, 1988.

With Donny Hathaway

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, Atlantic, 1972.

Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, Atlantic, 1980.

With Peabo Bryson

Live and More, Atlantic, 1981.

Born to Love, Capitol, 1983.

Sources

Books

The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, Random House, 1983.

Simon, George T., and others, The Best of the Music Makers, Doubleday, 1979.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, revised edition, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

People, May 5, 1981; July 19, 1982; January 9, 1989.

Rolling Stone, March 9, 1989.

Stereo Review, July 1980; March 1982; October 1982; December 1983; April 1989.

Nancy Pear

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"Flack, Roberta." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Flack, Roberta." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/flack-roberta