Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Deep Soul: Roberta Flack

Many singers have beautiful and strong voices. But then there are those who can sweep the listener away, the ones who can make you feel every single note, and their words feel etched upon your soul. You close your eyes and it's not just a song on a record, it's your man walking out the door for the last time, it's you sitting in a dimly-lit smoky nightclub being killed softly with someone's song.

Roberta Flack's music is like a rolling thunderstorm. It kind of creeps up on you at first, and then suddenly it surrounds you, enveloping you in its powerful depth and grace, and crackling with electric energy.

Born Roberta Cleopatra Flack, the singer grew up as a member of a musical family in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She started playing piano at age 9 and studying music at Howard University (where she earned her Bachelor's degree in music) at age 15. She was discovered playing at a D.C. nightclub by piano great Les McCann, who presented her debut album 'First Take', and wrote that "Her voice touched, tapped, trapped, and kicked every emotion I've ever known. I laughed, cried, and screamed for more..." in its liner notes.
Roberta went on to have a string of Grammy-award winning hits such as 'The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)' and 'Killing Me Softly', and while those amazing singles speak to her incredible talent as an artist, if you just listen to her greatest hits you are not getting the whole story. My favorite Roberta Flack songs are those unsung gems that never made it on the radio. I have almost all of her albums, and each one in its entirety is a masterpiece. When it comes to Ms. Flack, it's best to go off the beaten path with incredible songs like 'I Told Jesus', 'Feelin' That Glow', and her gorgeous string-filled version of the folk classic 'Suzanne.' And of course the entire 'Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway' album of duets is EPIC.