A Classic Album: Roberta Flack's 'First Take'

Roberta Flack

This week on My Classic Soul podcast, Soulmusic.com founder and host David Nathan invites renowned entertainment journalist Janine Coveney to discuss the legacy of 1969's First Take, which served as the iconic Roberta Flack's introduction to international music audiences. Tag along as they discuss in depth the 2020 deluxe edition of the LP and Flack's song choices, some of which are as relevant today as ever. First Take: 50th Anniversary Edition is available exclusively here


NATHAN: "Janine. It is just delightful to have this conversation with you. As we both know, we go way back, way back. So a time when you were my esteemed R&B editor at Billboard and I was one of your trusted freelancers."

COVENEY: "Indeed. And it was a pleasure to, we developed a relationship over the phone and over our mutual love for R&B music.

And it was actually a few years before we met in person when I moved to Los Angeles. And then, I moved into the same neighborhood and we've become great friends. So it's a pleasure for me to be here, to talk to you about our favorite topic: music."


COVENEY: "Well, I'll tell you I was pretty young. I don't even think I was in high school yet. It would have been the '60s for me. I had an older cousin who was a college professor and she was into all of this music. So a lot of this kind of was popular on college campuses. So she had First Take and I remember hearing it in her house. And then in my household, we had Roberta Flack's second album, but because we loved it, I think my parents went and got the first album."

"So I became aware of her and I was really fascinated by her voice because she had such a pristine quality to her voice. There was an elegance to her. There was a blackness to her that came across and she sounded different to me than what was out. I was used to soul music and the finger snapping music and you know, all of that."

"And she clearly made her own market - it almost seems like she came out of the group of like the American singer-songwriter movement. That kind of sound, even though she wasn't much of a songwriter, but she was able to be such a grant interpreter of other people's music that she almost, you would almost expect that she was a singer-songwriter, you know what I mean? That's how I became aware of her as like this pristine sort of voice of calm and intelligence and poetry, really because of how great her vocal interpretation skills were."

NATHAN: "In fact my first time actually seeing Roberta Flack was -  mean, I was familiar with the albums before she came to Britain for the first time, which was in 1972, I believe. And, she was, it was just, there was no one else that we could compare to. I mean just the way she performed."

"There was a BBC special. She had an hour special on BBC. Yeah. It was part of a series called 'Sound of Soul' and just watching her at the piano with her musicians on television as well was just like, 'Wow.' And she wasn't really comparable to anyone else in particular because of her, you know, as you mentioned the sound of her voice, wasn't like, I mean, she couldn't be funky, but that wasn't how you perceived that."


COVENEY: "Well, I'm a person of Afro-Latino descent. You know, I had Spanish speaking relatives, but the world seemed to be divided into, you know, you have your pop-English-soul over here and you have your Latin -  Spanish speaking artists over here."

"And very seldom if ever, did you hear an R& B or soul or African American artist, if you will sing in Spanish and sing a poem to music that was written, you know, ages before and the sentiment of the song, it's beautifully sung in Spanish, she does a beautiful job and it's really about,  'Painter, I want you to paint little black angels too, because they go to heaven. Black people are beautiful. And when you paint these churches there, you know, there's white angels. We want black, I want black angels too.'"

"And I think I'm not saying it verbatim, but that's kind of like the sense of it. And I know you can talk more about it musically, but it's important as a statement of the beauty of blackness and also that there is Afro-Latino people who are in existence and we can sing about the beauty of their blackness and a lot of different languages." 

Listen to the rest of the podcast here

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