Roberta Flack is probably your favorite soul singer’s favorite soul singer. She is the blueprint of exceptional musicianship, longevity, and masterful delivery- coupled with a voice so rich it seems gluttonous. The icon, who has been recording consistently since 1969, is set to release a fine interpretation of great Beatles classics called “Let It Be”. We caught up with Ms. Flack to chat about her music, her love of the Beatles, and her thoughts on the new era of soul music.
EBONY: For someone who, I don’t know, has lived under a rock on Mars and is unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe yourself as a recording artist?
Roberta: I describe myself as a musician. And I say that because every great, wonderful singer is not a musician, especially in 2012 with the help of technology... I’m proud to say I was trained at Howard University’s School of Music- where I studied with teachers who were Black, who had studied in Europe, who were exceptional in their communities, who had also studied at leading music schools like The Oberlin School of Music, and who were also classically trained. I benefited greatly from their instruction, all of the students there did and it was a perfect foundation for the musician I wanted to become…I love saying that [I’m a musician] because I don’t take it lightly.
EBONY: What made you decide to record a Beatles’ songbook?
Roberta: Well, I love them. I love their songs and I learned all of them when they were popular. And that was around the same time, or shortly after, that I started trying to find my own songs and record music. The group had broken up and were less popular by then, but I felt that I needed to keep those songs alive. While performing them, I would change them up; if the song was a ballad I would make it something else. It was that experience, coupled with my being a true student of music, that made me choose to interpret the songs as I have on this record.
EBONY: In speaking of musicianship, who are some of the new artists that you see preserving that tradition?
Roberta: I like Ledisi, I like Adele, I like Lalah Hathaway, and I like Lady Gaga- to name a few. What new musicians/artists have done today is bring everyone’s attention to the fact that when you have stage presence, when you have lighting, when you have videos that convey the stories that you are trying to tell, it all works together and I think that’s fantastic. I’m not mad at new artists at all.
EBONY: In speaking on new artist and in recognizing your longevity as a musician, what advice would you provide those coming up?
Roberta: Practice and stay focused. If these young artists are serious about their crafts, they have to prepare and they have to stay focused. If they have a talent that allows them to sit at the computer and make a song, I’m not mad at that- but make it the best, still be creative, be original. But above all they need to stay focused and develop their crafts.