In case you missed it - Roberta Flack featured in Closer Weekly

In case you missed it

Roberta Flack Featured in Closer Weekly

Music Legend’s First Take
Celebrates 50 Years
With Deluxe Reissue
Out Now

Set of Two CDs& Vinyl Album
Includes 12 Never-Before Released 
1968 Demo Recordings
For Atlantic Records

In this video, Roberta tells
her First Take recording story.
She says: 
“I recorded 40 songs in about three hours. And out of those 40 songs,
the songs that are on that album
were from that session.
So I did them in one take.
It was like a 10 hour thing, overall,
that this album came together.”

* * * * *

“Flack’s stunning voice sparkles in its clarity, her jazz-tinged piano playing shows just how gifted she is on the instrument and even with the low key program, there is no doubt that this is a major talent who has already found her voice before entering a studio.

 … her gifts are timeless. Anyone not acquainted with this iridescent album will quickly be floored by Flack’s maturity, control and professionalism on her earliest recorded material. It sounds as fresh, moving and inspired today as it did five decades ago.”

– American Songwriter

* * * * *

“Music reaches across race, age,

religion, borders and time to connect us.”

– Roberta Flack in Closer Weekly

Heart to Heart

Roberta Flack

I Tell Stories With Music

The legend tells Closer

about her humble beginnings,

her rise to fame

and how Clint Eastwood helped her career


She’s been soothing our souls with her warm, velvety voice for more than five decades, and at 83 Roberta Flack has no plans to stop the music. The only solo artist to win two consecutive Record of the Year Grammys (for “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in 1973 and “Killing Me Softly With His Song” in 1974), she just earned a 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the group. And though a stroke led her to stop touring in 2018, she’s been keeping busy with several new projects, including an upcoming stage musical and the just-released deluxe reissue of her 1969 debut, First Take. What’s the secret to her long-lasting career? “I arrange my songs – both musically and thought-by-thought – to tell stories that move people to love and learn about who they are at their deepest levels,” Roberta tells Closer. ” ‘The First Time…’ is timeless because seeing a person we love for the first time is an experience that always has been, and always will be.”


You just released the 50th anniversary edition of First Take. Why is it special?

I’m taken back to my days performing at [the Washington, D.C., bar] Mr. Henry’s, especially in songs on the bonus CD that haven’t been released before. I remember the intimacy I had with audiences, how I tried to entertain and interest them, but mainly touch their hearts. It was a time of discovery and transition for me.

You were a public school music teacher when you played there. What was the big break that led to your recording contract?

As word spread about me in the D.C. area, [owner] Henry Jaffe added a room for me and my trio called Mr. Jaffe’s Upstairs. The sign is still there: “Roberta Flack Trio – Tuesday through Saturday.” Five nights a week, three shows a night and every set was different – that’s a lot of music. I came to the attention of [ jazz pianist] Les McCann, who arranged an audition with Atlantic Records. I was asked how many songs I knew, and I said, “600!” That started my 40-plus-year relationship with Atlantic.

Your 1969 LP featured “The First Time…” but the album and song didn’t hit No. 1 until Clint Eastwood put it in his 1971 film Play Misty for Me. How did that happen? 

Among his many talents, Clint Eastwood has always been a musical visionary. He told me he heard my version of [the 1957 folk song] while he was driving down an LA freeway and had to stop his car. He called me and said, “I’d like to use your song in this movie about a disc jockey. [I’ll] use it in the only part of the movie where there’s absolute love.” I was floored!

Did you rerecord it for the film?

I said, “I want to do it over. It’s too slow.” He said, “No, it’s not.” That’s the version of the song you know. It gives you a snapshot of his ability to see beauty in simplicity and use music to convey emotion.

What and who inspires you?

I’m influenced by all musicians: Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti. I grew up listening to Mahalia Jackson, Rosetta Tharpe. I adore Kathleen Battle. Mongo Santamaría, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell influence me. It’s their courage to honestly express [things] that inspires me.

You’re classically trained. Was there a moment that set you on your path?

My parents told me I was playing piano at our church’s Sunday school. A member heard me, decided that I deserved lessons and offered to sponsor me. As my parents couldn’t afford them, this was a turning point. I became a student of one of the best teachers in the D.C. area, Alma Blackmon. These lessons were transformative and opened up an entire new world of music.

What influence did your parents have on you as you were growing up?

My sisters and I grew up poor, but not impoverished. We always had enough to eat and a roof over our heads. My mother played piano for our church services, and my father brought home an upright piano from a junkyard for me. It smelled and was ugly, but he cleaned it up and painted it green. I played the heck out of it! They encouraged my musical abilities and found ways for me to learn and grow.

You were accepted to Howard University at age 15. How did you manage that?

I skipped several grades. I was very shy, but [got] a full scholarship to study music. I’d wanted to major in classical piano, but changed to music education at the suggestion of a dean. It seemed more practical, with such limited job opportunities for black women then.

“When I was at the Grammys on January 26, I saw artists
like Lizzo, Demi Lovato, Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande
and many others.” she tells Closer. “Through their music,
I understand what young people today are thinking and feeling.”

Was it difficult at such a young age?

I made friends with six girls – we were “The Motley Crew.” They helped me to feel included, even though I was three years younger. We had meals, lived together in the dorms and remain friends to this day.

What did you learn from your 1965-’72 marriage to musician Steve Novosel, and was your interracial relationship tough?

[I learned] that love is love, and no one has the right to judge it. Steve and I remain fast friends to this day. Our love endures, although its form has changed.

How’ve you been since your 2016 stroke?

I’m thankfully in good health. My stroke, like this pandemic, causes me to slow down. I’m no longer racing around the world, so I have time to listen, watch, act and create. More than anything, it gives me gratitude for friends, family and fans that continue to support and love me.

You have a bunch of projects coming up.

I’m working on a children’s book about that junkyard piano I had, and an autobiography. Debbie Allen and I are old and good friends – she’s a sorority sister – and we’ve talked about doing a musical that tells the stories of my music and my collaboration with Donny Hathaway. Filmmaker Antonino D’Ambrosio asked if he could make a documentary about my life. He’s so talented! I accepted, of course.

What is your biggest life lesson?

Music is everything. It’s the language of emotion, expression and connection. No matter what challenge life presents, I’m at home with my piano, on a stage, with my band, in the studio. I can find my way when I hear music. In this time when we are presented with so many things that are dividing us as a nation, finding what connects us is ever more important, as our strength is with our love, not our fear.

– Reporting by Diana Cooper

Roberta’s First Times

Roberta (seen at age 15) grew up in Black Mountain, N.C., before moving to Arlington, Va.

In 1972, she recorded an LP with Howard Uni- versity class- mate Donny Hathaway. They made the classics “Where Is the Love” and “The
Closer I Get to You.”

Roberta with her 1974 Record of the Year Grammy for “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” just a year after winning it for “The First Time…”

POWER OF TWO She scored the Top 20 hit “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” with Peabo Bryson, a single from their gold-selling 1983 LP Born to Love.

Roberta and Maxi Priest covered Diane Warren’s song “Set the Night to Music” (done by Starship in 1987) and made it a Top 10 hit in 1991.

In the mid-2000s, she created the Roberta Flack School of Music in the Bronx, N.Y., for underprivileged kids. Then in 2010 she founded the Roberta Flack Foundation, giving grants to filmmaker Carol Swainson (left) and the online-based girls’ network SheLectricity (founded by Anasa Troutman, right) in 2019.

A 50th anniversary limited deluxe edition of Roberta’s first album, 1969’s First Take, was released July 24. The package features the LP, plus two CDs with three bonus songs and 12 previously unreleased demo tracks.