Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Roberta Flack, The #59 Artist of the Seventies*

Inside The Rock Era is producing a major music special for your enjoyment, The Top 100 Artists of the Seventies*.  We're up to #59*.

Roberta Flack began playing piano at age nine, and by her early teens, had progressed so rapidly that Howard University in Washington, D.C. awarded her a full music scholarship.  Flack became one of the youngest students ever to enroll there at age 15.  She changed her major to voice, and became an assistant conductor of the university choir.

Roberta was a student teacher at nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland.  She graduated from Howard at 19 and advanced to graduate school, but the death of her father forced Roberta to take a job teaching music and English in Farmville, North Carolina.  Flack also taught at Browne and Rabaut Junior Highs in Washington, D.C, and taught piano lessons to supplement her income.  

But Roberta still had the performing bug, and on nights and weekends would accompany opera singers on piano at the Tivoli Club, then sing in a back room during intermissions.  Later, Roberta performed at the 1520 Club.  This led to a regular gig at Mr. Henry's Restaurant in D.C. 

Les McCann discovered Flack's enormous talent at a nightclub in Washington.  He later said on the liner notes of what would be her first album, "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."

In 1969, McCann arranged for an audition with Atlantic Records, in which Roberta played 42 songs in three hours.  Flack was immediately signed to a recording contract, and three months later, her debut album First Take was released.  But it was not until Clint Eastwood selected one of the songs from First Take for his movie Play Misty for Me that Roberta's career took off three years later. 

Flack & Hathaway's version of "You've Got A Friend" only made it to #29 in 1971, but it was nominated for Best Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys. 

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" played a prominent role in Eastwood's movie in 1972.  The single rocketed to #1, where it spent six consecutive weeks and sold over one million copies.  It also topped charts in Canada and Australia.  The song is still solidly in The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*, a special which we are excited to update next spring for The 60th Birthday of The Rock Era.  Flack won Record of the Year honors at the Grammy Awards.  "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" lifted Roberta's album to Platinum status, as it reached #1 three years after its release.

The album Chapter Two was next, followed by Quiet Fire, which both went Gold. Roberta included this gem on her second album.

Flack and Donny Hathaway hooked up for several duets in the years to come, including the million-selling "Where Is The Love" from 1972.  It was a multi-format smash, #1 on both the Adult and R&B charts and #5 overall.

Flack and Hathaway also included this solid track on the album--"Baby I Love You".
In 1973, Flack released the album Killing Me Softly, her fifth consecutive Gold album, and the biggest seller of her career at two million.  Roberta collected another of her biggest hits with the #1 song of five weeks in the U.S., also #1 in Canada and Australia--"Killing Me Softly With His Song".  It was Flack's third Gold single that earned her Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. 

Killing Me Softly went to #3 on the Album chart.  Flack's follow-up "Jesse" made #3 on the Adult chart.

Roberta then landed her third #1 song, the title cut from her album Feel Like Makin' Love.  It was a triple threat, #1 Pop, #1 Adult, and #1 R&B.

Flack released another outstanding album in 1977--Blue Lights in the Basement.  That was followed by her self-titled album the following year.

In 1978, Flack & Hathaway combined for another huge across-the-board hit, "The Closer I Get To You".  A #1 R&B smash, it landed at #2 overall and #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
"If Ever I See You Again" reached #1 on the Adult chart and is one of The Top Adult Songs of the 70's*.
Another solid track we'd like to feature on the album is "When It's Over".
Flack continued her magic well into the 80's to become one of The Top 100 Female Artists of All-Time*.  For just the Seventies, Roberta falls in at #59*.   

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