Roberta Flack Takes on the Beatles

Roberta Flack reinterprets classic Beatles hits on her first album release in eight years 

by Holly George-Warren
roberta flack image
Photograph: Roseanne Dobosen

In the eight years since her last album, Roberta Flack has been performing (one jaw-dropping example: her duet with Maxwell at the 2010 Grammys) and working hard for her causes, the ASPCA and the Roberta Flack School of Music, founded in 2006. Now the acclaimed vocalist returns to recording with the just-released Let It Be Roberta, a luminous take on Beatles classics.

I love your interpretations of the Beatles’ songbook. How have you reacted to remakes of your hits?
When the Fugees did “Killing Me Softly,” everybody thought I would be mad. Quite the opposite. I got in touch with Lauryn Hill, and we wound up doing the video together. She told me, “When my mom was carrying me, she was listening to this song every day.” I gave it to the 20th century; the Fugees kicked it into the 21st century.

Which of today’s young female artists impress you?
Lady Gaga is just a fabulous person. The thing I like more than anything is her attitude about her success: She does not slap you in the face with it, but she does stick her chest out. That’s great—being a woman, it’s like, “I did this!”

How has making music changed since you first recorded in the ’60s?
The wonderful thing is that people can now have music anytime they want. All they have to do is hit an app. Go to a computer, push a button, and out comes a song. Today kids can record in their kitchen,on the street—they can record anywhere, and it sounds great, and we buy it!

Tell us about the Roberta Flack School of Music, which you established for underprivileged students in the Bronx.
I want these kids to have exposure to all the great music out there. I didn’t growup listening to opera or French art songs, but once I was exposed to them, I was so moved. When I recorded “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” I was trying to channel all those pure, incredibly beautiful, well-trained sounds—and that’s what I want to give these kids a chance to do.

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First Published February 1, 2012

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