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Music – Roberta Flack – Know How Hard We Try & Reverand Lee & The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face


Roberta Cleopatra Flack (born February 10, 1939) is an American singer and musician….who is best known for her classic #1 singles “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”….“Killing Me Softly with His Song”….and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” ….and for “Where Is the Love” and “The Closer I Get to You”….which was two of her many duets with Donny Hathaway…..as Flack was the first, and remains the only, solo artist to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year on two consecutive years….with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” ….which is featured in the video herewith…as it won at the 1973 Grammys….as did “Killing Me Softly with His Song” at the 1974 Grammys.

Les McCann discovered Flack singing and playing jazz in a Washington nightclub….as he later said on the liner notes of what would be her first album First Take noted below….”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.”….so, very quickly, he arranged an audition for her with Atlantic Records….during which she played 42 songs in 3 hours for producer Joel Dorn….then in November 1968, she recorded 39 song demos in less than 10 hours….and just three months later, Atlantic reportedly recorded Roberta’s debut album, First Take, in a mere 10 hours.  Flack later spoke of those studio sessions as a “very naive and beautiful approach… I was comfortable with the music because I had worked on all these songs for all the years I had worked at Mr. Henry’s.”

In 1971, Flack was a member of the legendary 1971 Soul to Soul concert film by Denis Sanders….which was headlined by soul singer Wilson Picket along with R&B duo Ike & Tina Turner, guitar legend Carlos Santana, gospel and soul legendary group The Staple Singers, soul pianist/vocalist Les McCann, saxophonist Eddie Harris and The Voices of Harlem among others. The U.S. delegation of musical artists was invited to perform for 14th anniversary of African independence in Ghana.  The film was digitally reissued as DVD and CD packet in 2004….but Roberta Flack declined permission for her image and recording to be included for unknown reasons….however, her captivating acapella performance of the traditional spiritual “Oh Freedom” retitled “Freedom Song” on the original Soul to Soul LP soundtrack was something special.

Flack’s cover version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” hit number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972….but her Atlantic recordings did not sell particularly well until actor/director Clint Eastwood chose a song from First Take, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, for the sound track of his directorial debut Play Misty for Me….which became the biggest hit of the year for 1972….while spending six consecutive weeks at #1 and earning Flack a million-selling Gold disc. The First Take album also went to #1 and eventually sold 1.9 million copies in the United States. Eastwood, who paid $2,000 for the use of the song in the film….has remained an admirer and friend of Flack’s ever since. It was awarded the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1973. In 1983, she recorded the end music to the Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact at Eastwood’s request.

In 1972, Flack began recording regularly with Donny Hathaway….scoring hits such as the Grammy-winning “Where Is the Love” (1972) and later “The Closer I Get to You” (1978)….both of which were million-selling gold singles….as Flack and Hathaway recorded several duets together, including two LPs, until Hathaway’s 1979 death. 

On her own, Flack scored her second #1 hit in 1973 with “Killing Me Softly with His Song” written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel….after having been originally performed by Lori Lieberman.….as it was awarded both Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female at the 1974 Grammy Awards. Its parent album was Flack’s biggest-selling disc….which eventually earned a double platinum certification. In 1974, Flack released “Feel Like Makin’ Love”…. which became her third and final #1 hit to date on the Hot 100. That same year, Flack sang the lead on a Sherman Brothers song called “Freedom”….which featured prominently at the opening and closing of the movie Huckleberry Finn.

Roberta Flack had a 1982 hit single with “Making Love” which was written by Burt Bacharach and reached #13….then she began working with Peabo Bryson with more limited success by charting as high as #5 on the R&B chart….plus #16 Pop and #4 Adult Contemporary with “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” in 1983. Her next two singles with Bryson, “You’re Looking Like Love To Me” and “I Just Came Here To Dance” fared better on adult contemporary (AC) radio than on pop or R&B radio.

In 1986, Flack sang the theme song entitled “Together Through the Years” for the NBC television series Valerie….later known as The Hogan Family. The song was used throughout the show’s six seasons….then she released Oasis in 1988 and failed to make an impact with pop audiences….though the title track reached #1 on the R&B chart….and then a remix of “Uh-Uh Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes)” topped the dance chart in 1989. Flack found herself again in the US Top 10 with the hit song “Set the Night to Music”….which was a 1991 duet with Jamaican vocalist Maxi Priest that peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #2 AC…..as Flack’s smooth R&B sound lent itself easily to Easy Listening airplay during the 1970’s….for she has had four #1 AC hits.

In 1999, a star with Flack’s name was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame….and that same year, she gave a concert tour in South Africa to which the final performance was attended by President Nelson Mandela. In February 2012, Flack released Let it Be Roberta, an album of Beatles covers including “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be”….which was her first recording in over eight years….as Flack knew John Lennon and Yoko Ono….as both households moved in 1975 into The Dakota apartment building in New York City and had apartments across the hall from each other. Flack has stated that she has already been asked to do a second album of Beatles covers….for she is currently involved in an interpretative album of the Beatles’ classics.

Regardless of how you look at the career of Roberta Flack….it is one of graceful dignity in every song that she performs….as her voice is one for the ages…..and well worth hearing over and over again….as this talented singer deserves her place in history.

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