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Roberta Flack, In Full Voice on America's Soundtrack

Flack says musicians should practice humility: "Don't wave [others' music] off 'cause you don’t understand it. Listen for the heartbeat. It's there."
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AFP/Getty Images
Flack says musicians should practice humility: "Don't wave [others' music] off 'cause you don’t understand it. Listen for the heartbeat. It's there."

Roberta Flack has been an unmistakable voice in American music since the 1960s. Her hits, from 1974's "Feel Like Makin' Love" to the chart-topping "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," are part of the soundtrack of many people's lives. That soundtrack has been compiled on a new album, The Very Best of Roberta Flack.

Flack was a public-school teacher when she began performing during Sunday brunch at a bar in Washington, D.C., in 1968. She eventually began singing nights, and her shows became so popular that the bar, a Capitol Hill spot named Mr. Henry's, had to turn people away.

Mr. Henry's became a hot spot, and Flack got a recording contract with Atlantic Records. After a 1970 appearance on a Bill Cosby television special, her career caught fire.

Flack's music definitely resonates with a younger generation of artists — from the Fugees, who covered "Killing Me Softly," to rapper Kanye West, who sampled her for his song "Hey Mama." Flack says she's grateful to still be performing at age 67, but she takes nothing for granted.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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