Reverend Jesse Jackson once described Roberta Flack as "socially relevant and politically unafraid." In a new interview with nonprofit organization AARP, Flack highlighted her take on musical activism and social issues of the past and present in the 50th anniversary reissue of 1969's First Take.
"I'm deeply saddened that many of the songs I recorded 50 years ago about civil rights, equal rights, poverty, hunger and suffering in our society are still relevant in 2020," shared Flack to AARP as the soul songstress reflected on the healing power of music. "I hope that people will hear these songs in a new way as they connect to their lives today, to this pandemic, to the growing economic disparities, to Black Lives Matter, to police brutality, to activism versus apathy, and the need for each of us to see it and address it. I will continue to use my music to touch hearts, tell my truth, and encourage people always to do whatever they can, however they can, to make the world better."
Flack is no stranger to the underlying connection between music and the brain. In May, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter received a touching email from a fan, who revealed that his wife had been battling Alzheimer's disease and was "almost totally nonresponsive for many years." When Flack's signature tune "Killing Me Softly With His Song" came on the radio one day, his wife suddenly turned to him and said, "Dance with me."
The storied singer emphasized the role of music in her personal life to overcome hardships, including her recovery from a stroke in 2016. "No matter what challenge life presents, I am at home with my piano. I can find my way when I hear music," she shared.
The 83-year-old also reminisced and the life and loss of her close friend and collaborator Donny Hathaway, who cowrote two songs on the album. "I loved Donny," Flack confessed. "He was a musical genius, and I don't use that word lightly. Donny had his struggles through the years — he suffered from severe depression — but when he sat at the piano and sang for and with me, it was as if nothing was wrong. It was magnificent."
2020 has been a landmark year for the singer, who is not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of First Take, but also the Lifetime Achievement Award she was honored with earlier this year by the Recording Academy. Despite her longtime musicianship, Flack easily returns to the early days of career when she listens to the album, admitting "Especially with the songs on the bonus CD that had never been released, I'm taken back to my days performing at Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill in D.C., and the intimacy I had with my audiences. The sign is still at Mr. Henry's that says “Roberta Flack Trio — Tuesday through Saturday.”
Roberta Flack First Take: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is available only at SoulMusic.com for $49.98 and is strictly limited to 3,000 copies. It ships July 24.