Roberta Flack's top hits continue to inspire more than 50 years later
Roberta Cleopatra Flack was born in 1937 in Black Mountain, North Carolina to a musical family.
As a young girl, she often accompanied the Lomax African Methodist Episcopal church, playing hymns and contemporary gospel songs from the likes of Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson.
Roberta Flack has been the voice behind your favorite slow jams since 1968. She gave us “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” and “Killing Me Softly,” all while creating other-worldly duets with legendary vocalist Donny Hathaway —such as the 1971 classic identity ballad, “Be Real Black For Me.”
Classically trained on the piano from an early age, Flack received a music scholarship at age 15 to attend Howard University. By the time she graduated at 19, Flack had shifted from piano to vocals, and she began teaching music while working as a singer and a piano accompanist for other singers.
Keyboard player Les McCann discovered Flack singing and playing jazz in a DC nightclub. He was so struck by her interpretational skills as a vocalist he very quickly arranged an audition with Atlantic Records— during which Flack played 42 songs in 3 hours. She reportedly recorded her debut album “First Take,” in only ten hours. It sold 1.9 million copies in the U.S.
In 1971, Flack participated in the legendary Soul to Soul concert film directed by Dennis Sanders, with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, Santana, the Staple Singers, Eddie Harris and the Voices of East Harlem, among others. This royal delegation of musicians was invited to perform in the nation of Ghana for the 14th anniversary of African independence.
Flack released "Feel Like Makin' Love," in 1975, recorded with pianist and arranger Bob James. It became her third and final number one hit. The single was released nine months before the album of the same title. It became the greatest musical success of her recording career. Flack also produced the single and album under the pseudonym "Rubina Flake."
In the 1980s, after the death of her duet partner Donny Hathaway, Flack went on to collaborate with songwriter Burt Bacharach, producing a song for the 1982 movie, Making Love. She also lent her beautiful vocals to the duet “Tonight I Celebrate My Love,” with pop vocalist Peabo Bryson, which peaked at No. 5 on the R&B charts.
The songs Flack is known for continue to be covered by favorite voices in pop and neo soul, including by the artists D’Angelo and Lauren Hill.
In 1999, Flack received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Described by Reverend Jesse Jackson as “socially relevant and politically unafraid,” Flack is a very active humanitarian and mentor.
In 2008, she founded the Roberta Flack School of Music at the Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx, providing an innovative and inspiring music education program free of charge. In 2010, she founded The Roberta Flack Foundation, whose mission statement is to support animal welfare and music education.
In 2020, Flack received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, she raised awareness and funds for FeedTheChildren.org during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roberta Flack announced in 2022 that she has the disease ALS, and is no longer able to speak or sing.