Valentine's Day is this Thursday (Feb. 14). Consider Roberta Flack's Feb. 15 concert at Tacoma's Pantages Theater the after-party filled with romantic vibes sure to linger as one of soul's most affecting voices delivers “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and other classics.
And as if her own iconic repertoire were not enough, she'll be putting her distinctive spin on a few Beatles classic, too, as featured on last year's “Let It Be Roberta” album. Tacoma Weekly caught up with the Grammy Award-winning diva to get a better idea of what to expect next week. A bossa nova-infused cover of “In My Life,” perhaps?
TW: So what made you decide to tackle the music of the Beatles?
RF: When I was trying to get my chops together – my performance chops – the Beatles were all over the radio; and not just (mainstream) radio, they were all over black radio in my community, which was quite unusual. You had Elvis and then you had the Beatles, you know. And then you had all of the doo-wop, black groups and people like Clyde McPhatter and Marvin Gaye ... and early Motown started.
The Beatles just stood out. The music still stands out. I don’t think there’s a better songwriter in the entire universe than Paul McCartney. And I love John Lennon. I love what John did after he left the Beatles. But I looove the stuff that Paul has done with his wife (Linda, in Wings).
TW: I read that you were a neighbor of John and Yoko (at New York’s historic apartment complex, the Dakota).
RF: Yeah, right across the hall.
TW: What do you remember about that time?
RF: Yoko still lives there. I’m still her neighbor. I still live where I lived, which is right across the hall. We share a service elevator.
TW: Did you ever talk about collaborating?
RF: I did some on (John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s) “Double Fantasy” album, but just very secretly. I just did some backgrounds. He invited me down; I went to the studio and just did a little singing. It was nothing, nothing worth mentioning.
We only did one concert, and that one was at Madison Square Garden ... I sang something toward the end. I’ve forgotten what it was, a rousing John Lennon song. But I just loved him as a person and still love Yoko. I loved their work together, loved their life together as we all got a glimpse of it. I didn’t get any more of an intimate glimpse than you did, but it was interesting to me, and probably more so because I was so close.
TW: Is the Beatles material you recorded a big part of your set?
RF: No, I wish it was ... but I will do “Hey Jude.” I will do “Here Comes the Sun.” I will do “Isn’t It a Pity.” And I do something I didn’t include on the album, which is a medley. It didn’t start out as a medley, but for live performances it wound up being a medley of “Golden Slumbers” ... and (she sings) “you never give me your mooooney,” that one; and “in the end the love you maaaaake.” We do that one and have a good time.
There’s so much music that I would like to do. I will be doing a lot of things people have not heard me do because I haven’t recorded them.
TW: Then there are your iconic hits. People point to your version of “Killing Me Softly” as the definitive version of that song. But other people have tackled it over the years. What’s your favorite version besides maybe your version?
RF: I’ve heard it in at least nine different languages, before the Fugees. I heard it in Portuguese. I heard it in Japanese ... in some Indian dialect. I think when you get a song like “Amazing Grace,” which I’ve heard sung all over the world ... everybody recognizes that (hums melody) whether it’s sung in Chinese or not.
And I think the same thing is true about (singing) “strumming his pain with my fingeeeeers.” Everybody recognizes that melody. That’s how I got to the song. I didn’t record it first.
(Note: Listen to her tell the story of how she came to record her version of the song online at http://www.tacomaweekly.com/dailymashup.)
TW: Something I didn’t realize until recently was that in your early career you got a boost from Clint Eastwood. (He included “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in his 1971 directorial debut, “Play Misty For Me.”)
RF: That was the ultimate boost. I mean, Clint Eastwood doing anything, but especially something that says I like it – listen to it – is a wonderful kind of support. He had been driving down the highway, he said, and almost went into the ditch when he heard “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which he absolutely loved, and still loves.
He was so moved by that that the movie “Sudden Impact,” where he says (in a gravelly voice) “make my day,” he wrote a song for me to sing … called “This Side of Forever.” He wrote it, and Lalo Schifrin produced it.
TW: I’m gonna have to go back and watch that one again for that scene.
RF: It’s not a great song, I don’t think – especially the way Lalo produced it. I think it deserved to be a little slower, a little more sentimental. But I was just like a studio singer at that point. I had to try to let myself get to that so they could tell me what they wanted me to do.
TW: I kind of wondered what your take is on how a lot of the R&B singers nowadays are using AutoTune, and how they’re touched up in the studio to the point where you can’t really tell where they can sing.
RF: Well, I don’t think it matters. I used to, when Akon came out with it ... but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I think it’s all a part of the hip-hop evolution. I think there are some people who are so clever with it that you wouldn’t even know that they use AutoTune. It doesn’t matter. AutoTune is not something that would use to tune. But for the sound, why not?
Roberta Flack in concert
7:30 p.m. Feb. 15
901 Broadway, Tacoma
$49 to $109