Roberta Flack – Tryin’ Times (Official Video) Produced by Suzanne Koga and Jeri Jones
“Q: The Reverend Jesse Jackson once described you as ‘socially relevant and politically unafraid.’ Do you feel that way?
“RF: I’m deeply saddened that many of the songs I recorded 50 years ago about civil rights, equal rights, poverty, hunger and suffering in our society are still relevant in 2020.
I hope that people will hear these songs in a new way as they connect to their lives today, to this pandemic, to the growing economic disparities, to Black Lives Matter, to police brutality, to activism versus apathy, and the need for each of us to see it and address it.
I will continue to use my music to touch hearts, tell my truth, and encourage people always to do whatever they can, however they can, to make the world better.”
(New York, NY) There are some very rare musical acts whose work and its impact all but defy even the highest superlatives such as legendary, iconic and monumental. Roberta Flack is one of those artists.
“Roberta Flack’s career demands a new way of thinking about the word ‘genius,'” notes the headline of an NPR.org article by noted music journalist Ann Powers. Fifty years after the release of her debut album, First Take, reissued in July in a special anniversary edition to critical acclaim.
The collection’s remastered tracks and newly released performances catapulted Flack’s First Take 50th Anniversary Edition onto Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 10 Best Reissues of 2020,” which stated, “This 1969 debut was soul’s original quiet storm, introducing a classically trained voice steeped in the church with the interpretive nerve of Nina Simone. In the studio, Roberta Flack and producer Joel Dorn restaged the chamber-jazz drama of her club gigs across a wide river of songs… The second CD is a breathtaking 1968 demo session with a different fire of show tunes, folk songs, and an epic transformation of the schoolgirl crush in 1967’s ‘To Sir With Love.'”
To start the year, the beloved singer, pianist, song stylist and writer, producer, humanitarian and activist was honored with a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, making a rare public appearance at the ceremony. Noted fans such as Khalid, Lizzo, Ana DuVernay, Chick Corea and Ariana Grande visited at the event with Roberta to pay their respects.
She was later celebrated for that Special Merit award on a PBS Great Performances GRAMMY Music Legends special. Cynthia Erivo performed Flack’s 1972 #1 hit and GRAMMY Song of the Year “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and was then joined by Leslie Odom, Jr. on “Where Is The Love,” her duet that same year with Donny Hathaway which hit #5 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening chart and won the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group GRAMMY.
As well, the 2021 GRAMMY nominations underscore Flack’s historic achievements as Post Malone joins Roberta, Frank Sinatra and Steve Winwood as one of the rare artists to be nominated for Record of the Year three times in a row.
The salutes follow a number of top honors in recent years and augur further recognition to come in 2021 and beyond for an artist NPR hails as “one of the most distinctive song stylists in the pop arena” and “a major figure in 1970s popular culture.” By drawing from such Black music styles as R&B, jazz, gospel, blues and soul and blending them with her classical training and background as well as rock, popular classics, folk and Latin songs and influences, Flack transcended genre and categories to make her considerable mark as an artist with a voice and sound unlike anyone else. She released 18 Billboard-charting songs and won four GRAMMY awards plus earned 13 nominations, and is the only act to win Record of the Year two years in a row (1973 and ’74).
From the start of her recording career, Flack’s potential to achieve such accolades and esteem was evident as what Amazon describes as “an elegant and legendary vocal superstar.” First Take was hailed by Uncut magazine as “a debut of remarkable vision and maturity” on its rerelease with three bonus tracks and 12 never-heard-before early recordings as well as an accompanying new video for her song “Tryin’ Times.” Similarly, American Songwriter notes how the “iridescent album” proved there was “no doubt that this is a major talent who has already found her voice before entering a studio… her gifts are timeless.”
The Guardian noted how First Take “offered a daring contrast to the conventional pop, soul or jazz releases of its day. Not only did it break with common genre boundaries, it challenged racial stereotypes, presenting a very different, and highly personal, definition of soul.” The BBC describes her voice as “a molten murmur [that] flexes into a cry as pure as a prayer, heartfelt as a confessional. It is elegantly tender, almost unbearably intimate.”
Hailed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson as “socially relevant and politically unafraid,” Flack exemplified the first blossoming of the Civil Rights and feminism movements that emerged in the 1960s, and many of the songs she recorded continue to resonate in this era of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. In 2019, she was given the prestigious Clark and Gwen Terry Courage Award from the Jazz Foundation of America, and the year before was presented with the Town Hall Friend of the Arts Award.
She started playing piano and singing as a young girl growing up in rural Black Mountain, North Carolina, mentored by her family, teachers, church members, choir directors and others. At the age of 15, Flack earned a full music scholarship to Howard University – one of the youngest students ever to enter the legendary African-American college. Following graduation, she taught music in Washington, DC-area schools while moonlighting as a nightclub performer. Her engaging warmth and wide-ranging repertoire made her a sensation at the Capitol Hill club Mr. Henry’s, where she was heard by jazz/soul legend Les McCann, which led to her being signed by his record label, Atlantic Records.
Following her string of hit singles in the 1970s. Flack continued to erase stylistic boundaries and have musical influence and impact. In the 1980s, she toured with Miles Davis. In 1991, her duet with new wave reggae star Maxi Priest, “Set the Night to Music,” scored a #6 pop single and #2 Adult Contemporary hit. “Killing Me Softly” returned to the charts in 1996 in a version by The Fugees that hit #1 on the Billboard Top 40. Two years later, Flack’s version was remixed with new added vocal flourishes by the singer and topped the Hot Dance Club Play chart.
In a nod to all those who helped Roberta realize and actualize her talents and dreams, she started the Roberta Flack Foundation. It supports a number of initiatives that help nurture young people through education and mentorship. Her impact on music and popular culture will continue with a planned documentary film about Flack’s life and music, her biography, and a children’s book, “The Green Piano, based on her life.
As Flack caps a half-century of artistry, she remains grateful for all that music has brought to her life and how it enabled her to affect and enrich the lives of many millions of others. “To me, music is everything. It’s the language of emotion, expression, and connection. It reaches across race, age, religion, borders and time to connect us.”