A comprehensive history of seventies black American music would be incomplete without a mention of Roberta Flack.
She got her musical education growing up in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., when she began to learn to play the piano. Her talent got her a full scholarship at Howard University when she was fifteen, and upon graduation she became a music teacher in the Washington area, performing in jazz clubs on the side.
Fame came calling when jazz pianist and vocalist Les McCann discovered Ms. Flack performing in a Washington nightclub. Her debut album First Take, released in 1969, didn't get much attention at first, but when Clint Eastwood, a jazz fan, included a track from the album, her recording of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," in his 1971 directorial-debut movie Play Misty For Me, both the song and the album went to number one on the Billboard charts.
Ms. Flack went on to have chart-topping hits with 1973's "Killing Me Softly with His Song," written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel about, allegedly, a Don McLean performance as experienced by singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman, and 1974's "Feel Like Makin' Love." But she also made music history with her duets with soul singer Donny Hathaway; their hits included "Where Is the Love" and "The Closer I Get To You." They were to seventies soul what Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell had been to sixties soul.
Unfortunately, Donny Hathaway committed suicide in 1979. And while Ms. Flack would later record duets with Peabo Bryson and Maxi Priest in, respectively, the eighties and early nineties, they just weren't the same as her duets with Hathaway.
Roberta Flack has continued her career since the early 1990s, with several albums (including a Christmas disc) and a 2012 album of Beatles covers; when she lived in the Dakota apartment building in New York in the late seventies, she knew, and was friends with, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
She turned eighty in February 2017, and she's been working on another Beatles cover LP. Roberta Flack shows no signs of slowing down.