Classic Artist of the Week: Roberta Flack

Hailing from Black Mountain, North Carolina, this week’s Riff’s & Rhymes Classic Artist is revered singer Roberta Flack.

A revered vocalist whose popularity largely hinges on The Fugees’ rendition of her song “Killing Me Softly,” Flack’s deep catalog of near perfect jazz-pop albums paired with her stunning voice, make her one of the most essential singers of her time.

Flack began her music career at a young age, accompanying her church choir on the piano and singing hymns. She excelled so much at classical piano that Howard University offered her a full musical scholarship at only nine years old, and at the age of 15, became the youngest student ever to enroll at Howard.

After cutting her postgraduate studies short and moving back to North Carolina due to the death of her father, Flack eventually returned to Washington D.C. to teach music at the junior high level and began performing in various D.C. nightclubs. She eventually worked her way onto Capitol Hill, where she was discovered by jazz artist Les McCann, and was set up with an audition with Atlantic Records, who signed her to a deal in 1968.

In describing Flack’s singing, McCann stated “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.”

At first, Flack’s recordings with Atlantic Records did not sell well. Her cover of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me” reached number 76 on the Billboard 100, but it was not until Clint Eastwood used Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for the soundtrack is his film directing debut. The track spent six weeks atop the Billboard 100 and finished as billboard’s top song of 1972. This song received a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1973.

When “Killing Me Softly With His Song” took home the same trophy in 1974, Flack became the only solo artist in history to win a Grammy for Record of the Year in consecutive years.

Through the rest of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Flack’s talent was frequently displayed in movie soundtracks and on television programs. In 1991, she resurfaced near the top of the Billboard 100 with a duet titled “Set the Night to Music”, which featured Jamaican singer songwriter Maxi Priest. Later that decade, Flack was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Today, Roberta Flack is working on an exciting venture – a second album compiled of Beatles hits. Her first, released in 2012, was titled “Let It Be Roberta.”

Recommended Listening:

Album: First Take

Album: Killing Me Softly

Album: I’m the One

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