Set The Night To Music

Roberta Flack Performs At Popejoy Hall'S Gala Fundraiser

Michael Henningsen
4 min read
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When you've booked a star that shines as brightly as Roberta Flack, you're bound by cosmic law to make the event more special than usual. Which is exactly what Popejoy Hall's Leadership Team did. Rather than simply produce another in a long line of remarkable Ovation Series events, Popejoy's powers-that-be felt they were faced with the perfect opportunity to host their first-ever fundraising event.

Proceeds collected from the fundraiser will be used to partially fund several factions of the Ovation Series: the Ovation Schooltime Series, which provides performing arts education programs for children in pre-school through high school; the Ovation Series Senior Program, which hosts low-income seniors and promotes ongoing arts education to the senior community; and the Ovation Series Wrinkle Writing Program, which provides teachers with professional training in the use of creative drama as a stimulus for student writing. In all, the educational services provided by the Ovation Series organization reach more than 33,000 students, seniors and educators, allowing them to experience and participate in the thrill of live theater. And there couldn't be a more appropriate host/performer for a fundraiser to benefit music education than Roberta Flack.

Best known for her smoky, sophisticated, jazz-tinged voice and the elegant ballads she turned into hits in the '70s, Flack spent the better part of the '60s teaching English and music.

After graduating from high school in her hometown of Ashville, N.C., at the ripe old age of 15, Flack, daughter of self-taught pianist parents, accepted a piano scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Once in college she soon changed her major to music education. The university's curriculum required that music education majors study voice, as well as a variety of musical instruments, effectively molding the facet of Roberta Flack we're all most familiar with.

While pursuing her master's degree in 1959, Flack's father tragically died, forcing her back home to North Carolina, where she took her first teaching job at a rural, all-black school in Farmville. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., she went to work at an all-white school, where she taught for eight years.

Flack says she was “strictly all about music from my head to my toes,” even in those days. And outside of her teaching duties, Flack played music, directed church choirs and mentored students in voice. By 1967, she was performing live five nights a week in a D.C. nightclub. Soon thereafter, she left her teaching career and began her life as a full-time musician. Jazz pianist/vocalist Les McCann discovered Flack a year later and helped her secure an audition with Atlantic Records producer Joel Dorn, who signed her almost immediately.

Her first two albums, while warmly received and fairly successful, spawned no hits. It wasn't until “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” from Flack's third album, was drafted for the Clint Eastwood thriller Play Misty for Me that Flack scored big on the charts. The song zoomed to number one and remained there for six weeks.

Flack began a musical partnership with vocalist Donny Hathaway in the early '70s, and the duo established themselves as major R&B and soul artists, generating several hits until Hathaway's suicide in 1979. Another major hit for Flack, “Killing Me Softly” came on her 1973 solo album of the same title, and still defines her as a vocalist of enchanting ability.

Since Hathaway's death, Flack has recorded regularly as a solo artist and in duos with Peabo Bryson and Maxi Priest. And she maintains a close relationship with her roots, using her silky smooth voice to touch the souls of audiences all over the world.

Those who choose to purchase fundraising tickets will enjoy a special reception and a chance to meet Roberta Flack at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 4, in the newly renovated Student Union Ballroom, followed by dinner at 5 p.m. Participants will also get Gold Circle seating for the concert, which begins at 7:30 that evening.

Those who wish to attend the concert only may purchase tickets ($50, $47 and $44) online at, at any outlet (Raley's Supermarkets, Western Warehouse), by phone at (800) 905-3315, at the UNM Bookstore or the Pit.

Photos of Popejoy Hall courtesy of the University of New Mexico Archive

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