Roberta Flack: From Arlington to stardom


Roberta Flack attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for ‘A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste’ Campaign in 2011. (Andy Kropa/Getty Images/GETTY IMAGES)
October 19, 2012

Roberta Flack, the singing and songwriting local-turned-legend, is performing at the Kennedy Center in “NSO Pops: Roberta’s Back in Town.” Here are some of the Grammy Award winner’s thoughts on her childhood in Arlington, how she feels about new artists covering her hits, and why it’s impossible to mess up a Beatles song.

On growing up in the DMV:

“I’m from Arlington [and] I went to junior high in D.C., then back to Arlington for high school. It does feel like a homecoming [to perform at the Kennedy Center]. People buying tickets to see me perform there, that’s a long way from upstairs at Mr. Henry’s. . . . When I went to junior high school, my brother and I used to run through the Army Navy Country Club — it was a shortcut — to get home, and we’d run past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We didn’t have any business being there!”

On how the area has changed since her childhood:

“After I got married, I lived in Washington for a while and then I moved to Alexandria. . . . I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be living in Alexandria. In those days, when I was a young girl, it was very, very segregated, at least in character — can’t say if there was a law. It wasn’t comfortable. Most black people in my community didn’t move to Alexandria unless it was a certain part, just as the part of Arlington where I grew up was isolated and set apart.”

On “Let It Be Roberta,” her album of Beatles covers:

“It’s hard to describe music as written by the Beatles as anything but wonderful. I can’t imagine anybody really messing it up. All you have to do is open your mouth and say, ‘Hey Jude.’ ”

On singing her classic hits:

“I don’t get tired [of singing them], but I get puzzled as to what scenario I can put in my head and in my mind that will reach my heart, so that what comes out is very sincere, ­really felt, and not just automatic.”

On what music she’s listening to now:

“I listen to Lady Gaga, of course. I met her two Grammys ago. I have pictures with her. I like her. She’s a musician as well. I saw her perform live once on “Ellen DeGeneres” and I was blown away. Moved to tears.”

On famous covers of her songs:

“The Fugees [playing ‘Killing Me Softly’], first of all, it’s not my song. Anyone can do it. And they must have captured the imagination and soul of a lot of people because they sold trillions. What difference does it make if I like it or not? And I do. There’s nothing wrong with that. Music changes. Can you imagine us listening to music from the 1920s? It’s not going to happen.”

NSO Pops: Roberta’s Back in Town

Oct. 25 - 27, Kennedy Center,
2700 F Street NW
, 202-467-4600,
www.kennedy-center.org.

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