The new film ‘American Masters: Roberta Flack‘ tells Flack’s story in her own words and includes interviews with Reverend Jesse Jackson, Clint Eastwood, Yoko Ono, Angela Davis, Eugene McDaniels, Joel Dorn, Peabo Bryson and more
Killing Me Softly
From “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to “Killing Me Softly” and beyond, Roberta Flack gave voice to a global soundtrack of beauty and pain, love and anguish, hope and struggle. American Masters: Roberta Flack illuminates where reality, memory and imagination mix to present a brilliant artist who transformed popular culture, in her own words. With exclusive access to Flack’s archives of film, performances, interviews, home movies, photos, hit songs and unreleased music, the film documents how Flack’s musical virtuosity was inseparable from her lifelong commitment to civil rights.
American Masters: Roberta Flack premieres nationwide Tuesday, January 24 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS App.
Flack’s story is illuminated through interviews with Reverend Jesse Jackson, Clint Eastwood, Yoko Ono, Angela Davis, Eugene McDaniels, Peabo Bryson, Valerie Simpson and Ann Powers. In addition to Flack’s timeless music, the film also features an original score from award-winning musician Martin Perna of Antibalas (Fela!: The Musical).
The film had its world premiere at DOC NYC in November 2022, as part of the film festival’s Metropolis competition.
A piano prodigy from an early age, Flack began studying classical piano at age 9 and was awarded a full music scholarship to Howard University at the age of 15. In 1968, moonlighting from her job as a music teacher with a regular gig at a Washington, DC, nightclub, her singular talent caught the eye of jazz great Les McCann, who arranged an audition for Flack with Atlantic Records, which led to the recording of her debut album, First Take. “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” a song from First Take, was personally selected by Clint Eastwood for his directorial debut Play Misty for Me, and it would win Flack a Grammy Award. The following year, she won a Grammy for “Killing Me Softly,” becoming the first artist to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in two consecutive years.
Throughout her extraordinary career, Flack established hit-making mentorships with Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson. Flack’s indelible career has spanned decades and produced countless hit songs, including “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “The Closer I Get to You.” The film chronicles how, throughout her pioneering career, Flack used her powerful platform to sing about the Black experience in America. She battled opinions of her interracial marriage, confronted blatant racism within the recording industry and created space for Black women to produce their own music. She released her latest project, Running, at age 80 in 2018, and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Grammy Awards. In November 2022, Flack was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), making it impossible to sing and not easy to speak. This film shines a light on her ability to defy norms, break records and inspire in the face of adversity.