Rhapsody in Black

Roberta Flack is the shepherd of a new R&B sound

American singer Roberta Flack photographed on July 31, 1972.Keystone/Getty Images

Rhapsody in Black - Roberta Flack


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March 02, 2023

Pop artist Roberta Flack said, “Music is an art form that doesn't need to be explained. It needs to be performed. It needs to be felt. It needs to be listened to. It needs to progress.” Flack grew up classically trained. In a 2020 interview, she told NPR, "For the first three decades of my life, I lived in a world of classical music. I found in it wonderful melodies and harmonies that were the vehicles through which I could express myself." She kept her love for classical music close to her heart as she revolutionized the R&B scene and became a pop music icon.

Musical arrangements from Roberta Flack

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

Written in 1957 by British political singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl and dedicated to Peggy Seeger, various folk singers have recorded this song. Flack popularized the song in 1969 when she released her version as part of her album, First Take. The recording became a breakout hit for the singer in 1972, winning Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 Hot 100 single in 1972.

“Killing Me Softly”

Another song with many covers from across genres, "Killing Me Softly with His Song" was composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. In 1973, it became a number-one hit in the United States, Australia and Canada for Flack. In 1996, a version performed by the Fugees became widely popular. The success of the Fugees propelled Flack to remix the 1972 recording, resulting in a version that topped the Hot Dance Club Play chart. Since then, Flack and the Fugees have performed the song together and both versions, the Fugees and Roberta Flack, were placed on the 2021 revised list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“Tonight I Celebrate My Love”

"Tonight, I Celebrate My Love" is a romantic ballad written by lyricist Gerry Goffin with Michael Masser and recorded by Peabo Bryson and Flack for their 1983 album of duets, Born to Love. This song is considered one of the greatest love ballads of all time.


Host: Vernon Neal

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Additional music selections: Jeffrey Yelverton

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher