Saturday, January 4, 2014

Roberta......Oh ROBERTA!!!!! (FLACK) Guest Blog for Cassette

Roberta Flack Killing Me Softly (1973)

            “Strumming my pain with his finger, singing my life with his words.” This could be the single most dramatic line of music ever written. It could be the start to a thrilling romance novel, or an epic play, but instead it’s the words sung naturally by Roberta Flack. Reinterpretation is one of her many gifts, and her rendition of this powerful song has permeated the ears of generations. “While Killing Me Softly” is an epic and recognizable song, the other songs from the same 8-track cassette that was released in 1973 are equally admirable and will transcend the listener on a vocal journey. Through heartache, laughter and despair Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly tape remains an all time favorite for young and old.

            One song that reminds us of Roberta’s initial folk music beginnings can be seen in the cassette recording of Suzanne. “Suzanne takes you to a place by the river”, an intimate moment shared between this girl and her love interest. Suzanne is a mellow, classically disco r&b folk track that describes in picturesque detail of a blossoming romance. Bright piano chords played by Roberta Flack, and her always crystal clear delivery allows this song to straddle the line between folk and r&b pop, something very popular at the time. Penned originally by Leonard Cohen, Roberta was a first choice to sing this melody live.

            “Jesse”  is another prominent heart felt song that Roberta Flack included on this tape. Her sweet voice easily conveys the pain of “keeping the light on the stairs”, hoping that her love will come home. Sad, and lonely, the song selections from this cassette conveyed a delicate significance as later speculation developed around the personal life of Roberta Flack. A whirlwind romance was rumored with the very married reverend Jesse Jackson. Coincidence? Roberta Flack would say yes, because she didn’t write the song, Janis Ian (of all people) a close friend did. However her passionate and sincere delivery of this piece, makes me only wonder if the speculation was right?

            Always the private person, Roberta will probably never tell. She did, however, give us some juicier music, laced with her sweet, crisp, mezzo-soprano vocals. Her piece de resistance, and her legacy will always be in Killing Me Softly With His Song. She initially heard the song while flying from Los Angeles to New York City listening to a music catalog. She heard it and instantly fell in love with the song meaning. She re-wrote the melody several times on staff paper she had with her, and transposed the song to end on a major chord. Her classical piano training, gave her a sturdy background to play around and rearrange the chord structure of songs. The end result in this case, is a hauntingly delivered song with a sturdy backbeat, using light drum and bass rhythms. Roberta Flack’s personal additions to the poem turned song, gave her a best pop vocal performance Grammy award for 1973. This 8-track cassette sold over 2 million units. Earning her a gold standing, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

            Her silky voice has blessed the ears of many for decades after these early successes. Numerous ballads and duets, Roberta Flack’s heart felt and genuine delivery of romantic songs, emotes with the soul. The same feelings we’ve all experienced, and felt inside ourselves, being sung out in the open. Roberta if you ever read this, thank you for all you’ve taught me, and the music you shared.  

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