Killin' Them Softly: Celebrating 75 Years Of Roberta Flack

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To strike someone with the "underrated greatness" term always carries a bit of weight behind it. You know, the quick snap question of "do they deserve it" comes to mind.

Sorry, in the class of underrated greatness, diva subsection, lives Roberta Flack who at the platinum age of 75 still takes risks musically and creatively.

Flack, known for her duets with tragic soul singer Donny Hathaway and her solo work such as "Killing Me Softly," "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," "Feel Like Making Love" and more, is prepping an album of Beatles covers entitled Let It Be Roberta. It's not the first all-Beatles cover album that I've come across, but it may be one of themost traditionally rich ones vocally.

The first Roberta Flack record I can even recall is arguably her best-known crossover hit. Her voice sucked in everything inside my mom's old '91 Plymouth Acclaim while having to deal with traffic leaving the YMCA off of Chimney Rock. Loose guitar strums were the only instrument backing her. Wyclef, a radio staple at this time in 1997 was null and void on this day.

I knew Lauryn Hill sampled the song by then. I also knew her version earned a silver medal compared to Roberta's.

It sounded like drinking an entire bottle of smooth Crown Royal with none of it affecting your vocal chords, but burning the absolute shit out of your chest. If it were tailored for a modern artist, you'd expect Adele to crush such things. Ironically, Flack's birthday comes two days before this year's Grammy Awards, where she remains the only woman to ever nab Record Of The Year in consecutive years (1973, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"; 1974, "Killing Me Softly with His Song").

Hathaway had long been a staple in the Brando household, not only since both parents grew up in the era where Hathaway was seen as another speaker of the heart, but could easily make people fall in love all at once. I could say that "The Closer I Get To You" immediately spawned half of a generation and was played at local dances for a good 20 years, but I may be wrong. The double whammy from Flack and Hathaway ("Where Is The Love" and "The Closer I Get To You") rode on the same string that Marvin Gaye had with Tammi Terrell, but in both situations everything ended tragically. Terrell died of a brain tumor in 1970, and Hathaway committed suicide in 1979.

For all of her success in the '70s and more, hearing the words that Roberta Flack is doing a Beatles cover album isn't any more shocking than watching M.I.A. be defiant and stand out in a halftime show where Madonna blended her '90s hits with goddamn LMFAO. Greatness tends to be given its own lane to tread and work within. I wouldn't expect anything less from the wonderful Ms. Flack.

The young me who first heard her in the front seat of a bruise-red colored Plymouth wouldn't either.

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