Roberta Flack: The RHINO Interview

Friday, February 26, 2021
5th November 1969: Full-length studio portrait of American pop singer Roberta Flack smiling while laying on the floor, propped up on her elbows. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With the recently expanded deluxe edition of Roberta Flack's instantly classic debut, First Take, arriving on streaming platforms today--including a previously unreleased version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On"--we were honored for the opportunity to catch up with the legend herself.

Considering the 50th anniversary celebration of your instantly classic debut album, First Take, what are your strongest and most indelible memories of making that record? Is there a moment or take during the recording that stands out for you?
Especially in the songs on the bonus CD that have never been released before, I'm taken back to my days performing at Mr. Henry's. I remember the intimacy I had with my audiences there, and how I tried to tell stories that would entertain and interest them, but mainly touch their hearts. It was a time of discovery and transition for me, and the music of First Take and the bonus tracks take me directly back to that time. This album was the bridge between my Washington, DC performances at Mr. Henry's, and my recording career with Atlantic Records.

Clint Eastwood famously called you personally to use "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" in his movie, "Play Misty for Me." What were your first impressions hearing the song in the movie? When was the last time you spoke with Clint Eastwood?
Clint Eastwood has always been a musical visionary among his many talents.  He told me that he heard my version of "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" while he was driving down a Los Angeles freeway and had to stop his car.  He called me out of the blue and said, "I'd like to use your song in this movie about a disc jockey with a lot of music in it." He said that he would 'use it in the only part of the movie where there's absolute love." I was floored, then agreed.  He said, "Anything else?" I said, "I want to do it over again.  It's too slow." He said, "No, it's not."  That’s the version of the song that you know, and that gives you a snapshot of his ability to see the beauty in simplicity and to use music to convey emotion. 

What are your memories of the moment when you first learned that "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" hit #1 on the Hot 100? 
Well, since I recorded the song and released it three years before it hit #1, I was in disbelief! 

There's a great photo of you with Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant in 1976. What are memories of him? Are you a fan?
Of course, I am a fan of Robert Plant! He is a totally unafraid, bold, creative and expressive artist. 

You were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys last year. You expressed a desire to meet a lot of the young recording artists who were there. Who did you meet that night, and who were you most impressed by? Who are some of the young artists that you really enjoy?
It was breathtaking to be at the 2020 Grammy telecast, and be recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.  I was able to meet Ariana Grande, Lizzo, Khalid, and so many more talented artists that day, and was able to see them perform live.  My god-daughter Kira played for me music by Selena Gomez, Post Malone, Meghan Trainor, and others i can’t recall. I love how creative and expressive they are and respect the stories they tell us with their music. I believe deeply in the need to nurture and educate our children, who are our future. I hope that my music will continue to inspire people to find their courage to feel their truth and tell their stories.

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