Celebrity Entertainer: Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack"I like to think of myself as a musician who has found some original meaning in songs that maybe everybody else has done.” says the legendary Roberta Flack when describing  Let It Be, her extraordinary new CD of Beatles tunes. “I’d like to think that my producers and I found some new directions and new meanings. I think that’s the sign of a good interpreter of music. I didn’t write these wonderful songs, of course, I’m only expressing what I feel about them. And what I feel about them—hopefully—is universal enough that people will say, ‘Yeah.’ The universality that Ms. Flack speaks of can be located in her own long and deep personal history with the songs on this collection. Right from the start of her career, when she was a young woman juggling her career as a schoolteacher with her calling as a performer, Beatles songs played an important part, proving their boundless appeal.

It wasn’t just the school kids who knew and were moved by the music of the Beatles, however.  The magic she wove for fans in gay bars (and students in classrooms) oh so many years ago is present in abundance on Let It Be. The collection kicks off with “In My Life,” and immediately lets the listener know she or he is in for inspired re-imaginings of the classics. Much-beloved tracks such as “Hey Jude” and the first single “We Can Work It Out,” likewise, showcase a lightness and playful expressiveness in Ms. Flack’s voice that actually serves to draw out the poignancy of the lyrics. But there is also an undercurrent of melancholy in “We Can Work It Out” which underscores the fact that the song’s message is needed as much today as when it was first released—maybe even more, now, as the world convulses with conflicts all around the globe.

Roberta Flack, a child prodigy who won a music scholarship to Howard University at the age of fifteen, came of artistic age and political consciousness just as America was convulsing on its own terms of existence. The Beatles were rewriting every rule of pop culture. And suddenly, right there in the midst of it all, with an iconic Afro, a staggering talent, and a vision of music as a tool for both joy and enlightenment, was Ms. Roberta Flack.

Starting with her classic debut album, 1969’s First Take, she carved out a career filled with massive radio and chart hits (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “Jesse,” “Feel Like Making Love,” and – with the late, great Donny Hathaway – “Where is the Love?,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “The Closer I Get to You,” “Back Together Again,” and so many more), countless awards (including four Grammys) and worldwide critical acclaim for her singing and peerless musicianship.

Let It Be is in many ways a full-circle artistic statement from Ms. Flack, and it’s an absolutely exquisite re-imagining of Beatles songs.  And in explaining both what she thinks makes the music of the Beatles so enduring, and what moves her to continue making music, she says simply, “I think music is such a powerful means of expressing what the world needs now, and that’s understanding between individuals, between races, between countries. I think music has the potential for being the answer to all those deep questions we ask ourselves as human beings.”