Roberta Flack continues to tap emotions

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Born in Asheville, North Carolina, and raised in Arlington, Virginia, Roberta Flack discovered her earliest musical influences from the church. The local AME Zion Church gave everyone the opportunity to get out of the house, but, as Roberta recalls, the music "didn't have the raunchy, wide-open, free, spontaneous, full-of-life thing that you could hear at the Baptist Church down the street." Whenever she could, she'd sneak over there to hear such gospel luminaries as Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers. At home, Roberta's father repaired an old upright piano, and she began to pick out tunes while sitting on her mother's lap. When she turned nine, she began taking piano lessons, and also started to listen to a wide range of popular music, R&B, jazz, blues, and pop.

As she moved into her teens, Roberta's listening gravitated towards classical music, and her piano playing developed rapidly. At 13, she won second place honors with her performance of a Scarlatti sonata in a statewide contest for black students. At the same time, her scholastic excellence enabled Roberta to regularly skip grades, to the point that she had to be "left back" for a year to allow her physical and emotional development to catch up with her stellar academic advancement. Classically trained on the piano from an early age, Flack received a music scholarship at age 15 to attend Howard University. After several years as a high school English teacher, Ms. Flack was discovered while singing at a Washington, DC club by jazz musician Les McCann. This resulted in her being signed to Atlantic Records.

Reminiscing, McCann said, "Roberta was doing a benefit for the Inner City Ghetto Children's Library Fund, and I was in the crowd. I was stunned by what I heard; 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!"

With a repertoire of more than 600 songs, Roberta played 42 of them for Atlantic producer, Joel Dorn, in three hours. In November of 1968,she went into the studio and laid down some 39 song demos over nine hours. Three months later, she recorded "First Take," her debut album, in a mere ten hours at Atlantic Studios. Among the songs she cut was "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". Roberta recalls those studio sessions, remembering it as a "very naive and beautiful approach...I was comfortable with the music because I had worked on all these songs for many years." "First Take" was released in June 1969, followed by her first single, the Eugene McDaniel's composition, "Compared To What."

A year later, she released her second album, "Chapter Two," produced by Joel Dorn and King Curtis, arranged by future-collaborator Donny Hathaway, and with laudatory liner notes by Jerry Butler. Another McDaniel's composition, "Reverend Lee and Jimmy Webb's", and "Do What You Gotta Do" both became singles from the album; which included material as diverse as Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman," a Buffy St. Marie composition and the then-contemporary Broadway hit, "The Impossible Dream." Roberta confesses, "I didn't know how well my first album had done; it was enough to get me to do the second album, which was a continuation of the music I'd worked on and perfected."

In 1971, encouraged by Jerry Wexler, Roberta and Donny Hathaway collaborated on "You've Got A Friend". Again, her peerless interpretation of the contemporary pop hits won her critical acclaim. Later that year, she performed in Ghana as part of the star-laden Soul To Soul Festival. Her friend Les McCann was there with Eddie Harris, as were and The Voices of East Harlem. For this once-in-a-lifetime event, Roberta performed "Freedom Song," "Trying Times" and "Gone Away." The album of the event was released on Atlantic (as was the videotape of the concert, fifteen years later). Capping off this busy year, Roberta's third album, "Quiet Fire," was released. It was arranged by Roberta herself and yielded the single, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."

Internationally hailed as one of the greatest songstresses of our time, Roberta Flack remains unparalleled in her ability to tell a story through her music. Her songs deal insight into our lives, loves, culture and politics, while effortlessly traversing a broad musical landscape from pop to soul to folk to jazz.

In 1972, are-release of her song, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," from her first LP, zoomed to number one and remained there for six weeks, becoming that year's biggest hit. She followed with a string of hits, including "Where Is the Love"(a duet with former Howard University classmate Donny Hathaway), "Killing Me Softly With His Song." "Feel Like Makin' Love," "The Closer I Get to You," "Tonight I Celebrate My Love" and "Set the Night to Music." Deservingly, In 1999, she received a Star on Hollywood's legendary Walk of Fame. Roberta is also an outspoken participant in the AEC (Artist Empowerment Coalition) whose primary goal is advocacy for artists' rights and control of their creative properties. Through it all, she always comes back to the music, which is why it is not surprising that Roberta was asked by VH1 to participate in its "100 Greatest Love Songs" and "100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll" television events. Roberta's latest release was her 2003 Christmas album, "Holiday", a timeless collection of seasonal favorites, a Roberta classic or two, plus a few goodies thrown in for good cheer. For 2005, "Songs From the Neighborhood", an all star tribute to the music of the late Fred "Mr." Rogers, showcases Flack's inimitable vocal talent, as she sings the signature classic and theme song to Rogers' beloved T.V. program, "What a beautiful day in the neighborhood." Roberta Flack continues to perform to appreciative audiences around the world and is currently involved with two very exciting recording projects - an album of Beatles songs due out later this year, and an album for a talented group of musicians she is developing called The Real Artists Symposium. Very active as a humanitarian, she recently opened the Roberta Flack School of Music at the Hyde Charter School in the Bronx, which will provide music education to underprivileged students free of charge.