oberta Flack's third number one single did not come easily. Her producer of five years, Joel Dorn, departed the sessions for Flack's fifth album, Feel Like Makin' Love, in a flurry of dissension with Atlantic brass. The chair behind the board was taken over by a novice who quickly came and went, leaving Roberta without a producer. "I didn't know nothing about nothing," Flack stated in the Aquarian. "I had nobody to help me finish the album, so I did it myself. It was one of my worst experiences."
Utilizing the same process, it took her nearly three years to complete her next LP, Blue Lights in the Basement. Her schedule was also filled with other endeavors. The former operatic student who once directed an amateur performance of Aida worked on a linguistics doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, installing a computer in her Washington home to keep up with the program. In addition, she began acting, took dancing lessons, ran her own business, adapted a menagerie of 24 cats and dogs, and shed 42 pounds from her chunky-since-childhood frame. Plans had been laid for her to star in a film biography of Bessie Smith, but the project bogged down for lack of an adequate script or financing.
After "Feel Like Makin' Love," Roberta's biggest hit was "The Closer I Get to You," a track from Blue Lights in the Basement album that reunited her with former singing partner, Donny Hathaway. Their 1972 single, "Where is the Love," had peaked at five; this new effort spent two weeks at number two in May, 1978. Hathaway passed away less than a year later, on January 13, 1979.
An album of duets with Peabo Bryson in 1983 gave Roberta her most recent top 20 hit, "Tonight, I celebrate My Love." She and Bryson toured to promote the record -- nothing, it seemed, could keep Flack off the road. Yugoslavia, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Brazil, Africa, the European continent and, of course, North America were just some of the places she parked her piano for the night. In one not-so-atypical 24-hour span, she performed in Phoenix, Arizona, one evening and Barcelona, Spain, the next. Her home base shifted, too, to a seventh-floor co-op in New York City's famed and luxurious Dakota, while her animal family roamed a 33-acre purchase in New Jersey.
Films did utilize her services, but not in front of the cameras. She sang the title tracks for Joe Brooks' If Ever I See You Again and for the controversial Making Love in 1982, a film which included "Feel Like Makin' Love" in its soundtrack. Roberta was also the subject of a PBS special, An Evening With Roberta Flack, taped at the Park West Theater in Chicago.
Later, she was able to realize her dream of performing with symphony orchestras, describing the experience to the Kansas City Times as "a luxury, a rare kind of booking. Most singers who sing the kind of music I sing dream of singing with lots of strings behind them." She also began to to compose her own material, having long been satisfied to interpret the songs of writers she respected. In 1984, Flack was honored with an hour-long musical tribute on the steps of New York's City Hall, one of several such accolades she has collected over the years for her social involvement as well as her contribution to the music world.
In 1984, Flack contributed "Goodbye Sadness" to her friend and fellow Dakota tenant Yoko Ono's tribute album to her late husband, John Lennon, Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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