Roberta Flack: Teacher at Heart


With hits like “The Closer I Get to You,” “Killing Me Softly,” “Where Is the Love,” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Roberta Flack has captured the hearts of hopeless romantics since 1969.

But her first success, as she remembers, was not in the recording studio but in the classroom.

Born in 1937 in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Roberta Cleopatra Flack grew up in Arlington, Virginia. Her mother, who played the organ in church, inspired her to study classical piano when she was nine. At 15, she won a music scholarship to Howard University.

“My first teaching job was in Farmville, North Carolina. I was 19. I taught 12th grade English literature, but every three weeks or so, I would see every child in that school. It was the only black school in the area. I had kids from preschool all the way through 12th grade, and I taught every one of them something musical.”

The $2,800 annual salary didn’t discourage her from teaching. She went on to teach at Browne Junior High and Rabaut Junior High School in Washington, D.C. and give private piano lessons out of her home. She began singing in night clubs until signing her first contract with Atlantic Records. That’s when her own education took off.

“I was working in studios where black vocal instructors were teaching young black students who were interested in opera the art of singing,” Flack recalls. Even while becoming a superstar, she remained a wide-eyed student, motivated by creative masters from Leontyne Price to Maya Angelou.

Flack’s passion for education came full circle with her recent founding of the Roberta Flack School of Music in the Bronx. A strong believer in inspiration as a catalyst for learning, she wants children to experience the magic and creativity that music can offer.

“The school gives these young people who think they don’t have many options a chance to see that they do,” she explains.

Indeed, seeing that you have options changes everything. For example, are you aware of all the benefits and discounts that are available to you through your association and AMBA? Your membership may entitle you to a free benefits review. Our skilled agents can help you stretch your retirement dollars or fill in gaps in your health coverage. The review is free, so you have nothing to lose.

As Flack says, “See every opportunity as golden, and keep your eyes on the prize—yours, not anybody else’s.”



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