[artist id="7327"]Roberta Flack[/artist] is blessed with one of the most iconic voices in R&B, but the world almost didn't get the chance to hear it.
Born in tiny Black Mountain, North Carolina, in 1937, the young Flack was a prodigious piano player, earning a full musical scholarship to Howard University when she was just 15. During her time at Howard, she switched her major from piano to voice and became an assistant conductor of the university choir. After graduating, she took jobs teaching at schools in Washington, D.C., and made extra money giving piano lessons at her house. She accompanied opera singers on the piano at D.C.'s Tivoli nightclub and, during admission, would sing blues, folk and pop standards in the back room.
After an appearance at a D.C. benefit concert, piano player Les McCann took notice of her voice and arranged an audition for Atlantic Records. Flack signed with the label and, in 1969, released her first album — a collection of songs she recorded in a mere 10 hours called First Take. The album was a commercial disappointment until, in 1972, director Clint Eastwood chose one of the songs featured on it ("The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face") for the soundtrack to his film "Play Misty for Me." The song would subsequently rocket all the way to the top of the Billboard charts, and Flack's career was finally off and running.
She teamed with musician and producer Donny Hathaway on a string of hits, including "Where Is the Love" and "The Closer I Get to You," and then — on her own — she released the massive "Killing Me Softly With His Song." Both "The First Time" and "Killing" won Flack the Grammy for Record of the Year. She continued scoring hits well into the 1980s, most notably "Making Love" and "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love."
In later years, Flack's biggest songs would be discovered by a whole new generation of artists, most notably the Fugees, who scored a huge smash with their version of "Killing Me Softly." On Sunday (January 31) at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, Flack joined [artist id="817"]Maxwell[/artist] onstage for a version of "Where Is the Love."
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