I’m a Roberta Flack fan. The first time ever I heard her voice, I was touched by her depth of feeling and purity of sound. She reached out to a part of me that is innocent, full of awe, and imbued with love. That is a great place to dwell when you can find yourself there. My husband spotted the announcement in our local newspaper, months ago, that she was going to appear at the Newberry Opera House, about an hour’s drive from Greenville, on April 20. We bought tickets on the phone that same day.
Yes, I love the songs that launched her career, and her duets with Donny Hathaway. I looked forward to hearing some of them. But really, I was excited to see Roberta Flack now, today, the older wiser woman with experience and grace. It would be the first time I would ever see her in person. I really didn’t have any idea what she’s been up to lately, but I knew it would be soulful and beautiful, that it couldn’t be any other way.
It was inspirational to see how she worked with her musicians and back-up singers. Resplendent in her natural beauty, Ms. Flack shone light on each member, engaging in a subtle and masterful musical conversation that I rarely see anymore and greatly appreciated. The acoustics in the “cute little opera house” (her words) were very nice. It was really a great venue to hear that same voice that I found so inspiring years ago.
We were indeed treated to some oldies, including Carol King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Killing Me Softly” by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel. She took the opportunity to have the audience sing along with the chorus of more than one familiar song. People did at first timidly, and then a little more boldly. The audience was on the elderly side. Honestly, I don’t know what a Roberta Flack fan looks like really, (probably they have every complexion under the sun) but I wasn’t expecting what I saw. I believe much of the audience were season subscribers to the opera house, who might have been familiar with a few of her most famous songs. We saw one gentleman who was clutching some albums, which I presumed he was going to try to get her to sign for him. So I know for sure he was a fan. I really enjoyed her version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” which she said she had to pay $25,000 for the rights to use her own lyrics, (so she makes sure to sing it every time she makes an appearance.)
But Ms. Roberta Flack is still a creative and inspirational woman, not confined to replaying her hits from the past. She has a new album, already available on iTunes, “Let It Be Roberta – Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles (Bonus Version + Digital Booklet).” At one point in the evening she said that she is a classically trained musician, and then expressed her appreciation for great songwriters, like the Beatles.
She sang a song called “Say No” from a project called the Real Artist Symposium, that I liked a lot. It was a message to young women not to be so anxious to grow up so quickly. Throughout the evening I appreciated her message delivered in several ways, that is so feminine and so supportive of the spirit of women and girls.
The range of dynamics, of her musicians and singers, of songs and emotions, the arrangements, were all great, and there was nothing about the evening that I did not enjoy. When we were leaving a lady asked us if we thought she still had her voice, saying she didn’t think so. I, actually we, (my husband and I) disagreed. She didn’t give an athletic performance, but it was the same unforgettable voice. (We refrained from pointing out that she probably had lost a little something over the years too.)
This week I went to the Roberta Flack website, where there was a link to the new Beatles album, more information about the Real Artist Symposium, and another very worthwhile project, The Hyde Leadership Charter School. A tuition free music school in Bronx, NY that accepts any student who wishes to attend and offers musical training three days a week after school hours. You may want to consider donating.
If you’re in Peach Tree City, Georgia on June 23 you can catch her with Peabo Bryson, or in San Diego, CA on July 6-9, you can hear her with the San Diego Symphony. I’m sure that will be unforgettable. I left the concert feeling inspired to do my best to shine being the very best me I can be, and thankful to Ms. Roberta Flack for being so great at being Roberta Flack.