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AMERICAN MASTERS: Roberta Flack

Leroy Patton / Ebony Collection
/
Johnson Publishing Company
Soul singer Roberta Flack belts out a tune during a 1971 concert at the Trident Lounge at Cal State College in Los Angeles, Calif. (Leroy Patton/Ebony Collection)

Premieres Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 / PBS Video app

From “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to “Killing Me Softly” and beyond, Roberta Flack gave voice to a global soundtrack of beauty and pain, love and anguish, hope and struggle. AMERICAN MASTERS "Roberta Flack" illuminates where reality, memory and imagination mix to present music icon Roberta Flack, a brilliant artist who transformed popular culture, in her own words.

AMERICAN MASTERS: Roberta Flack: Preview
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With exclusive access to Flack’s archives of film, performances, interviews, home movies, photos, hit songs and unreleased music, the film documents how Flack’s musical virtuosity was inseparable from her lifelong commitment to civil rights.

Courtesy of Roberta Flack
/
PBS
Roberta Flack performing at Constitution Hall. (undated photo)

AMERICAN MASTERS provides an intimate look into Flack’s artistry, life and triumphs over racism and sexism within and outside of the recording industry. Flack’s story is illuminated through interviews with:

Clint Eastwood loved "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"

In addition to Flack’s timeless music, the film also features an original score from award-winning musician Martin Perna of Antibalas (“Fela!: The Musical”).

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Courtesy of Roberta Flack
/
PBS
Roberta Flack recording at Altantic Records in New York (1996).

A piano prodigy from an early age, Flack began studying classical piano at age 9 and was awarded a full music scholarship to Howard University at the age of 15. In 1968, moonlighting from her job as a music teacher with a regular gig at a Washington, D.C., nightclub, her singular talent caught the eye of jazz great Les McCann, who arranged an audition for Flack with Atlantic Records, which led to the recording of her debut album, "First Take."

Roberta Flack was a child piano prodigy

“First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” a song from "First Take," was personally selected by Clint Eastwood for his directorial debut "Play Misty for Me," and it would win Flack a Grammy Award. The following year, she won a Grammy for “Killing Me Softly,” becoming the first artist to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in two consecutive years.

The origin of Flack's hit "Killing Me Softly With His Song"

Throughout her extraordinary career, Flack established hit-making mentorships with Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson. Flack’s indelible career has spanned decades and produced countless hit songs, including “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “The Closer I Get to You.”

Vaughn Patterson / Ebony Collection
/
Johnson Publishing Company
Soul singer Roberta Flack performs a duet with Donny Hathaway at the 1971 Black Expo in Chicago, Ill. (Vaughn Patterson/Ebony Collection)

The film chronicles how, throughout her pioneering career, Flack used her powerful platform to sing about the Black experience in America. She battled opinions of her mixed-race marriage, confronted blatant racism within the recording industry and created space for Black women to produce their own music. She released her latest project, "Running," at age 80 in 2018, and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Grammy Awards.

How Roberta Flack created soul with "getting-togetherness"

Watch On Your Schedule:

AMERICAN MASTERS is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.

Courtesy of Warner Music Group
/
PBS
Roberta Flack portrait

Credits:

A production of La Lutta Productions in association with American Masters Pictures. Produced, directed and written by Antonino D’Ambrosio (Frank Serpico, Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited). George Sampas, Charlie Cohen, and Andrew Herwitz are executive producers. Mike Tyner, Yrthya Dinzey-Flores, and Axel Caballero are producers. Michael Kantor is executive producer for AMERICAN MASTERS.