Flack ready to sing again

Singer plans to hit the stage af­ter earn­ing Jazz Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica hon­ours

Regina Leader-Post - - YOU - NEKESA MUMBI MOODY

NEW YORK Once a week, Roberta Flack gives a mu­si­cal per­for­mance for an ex­clu­sive group.

The lucky au­di­ence con­sists of a mu­si­cal di­rec­tor, who works with the le­gend to keep her in­stru­ment — her voice — in top form. It would be an im­por­tant ex­er­cise for any singer, but even more crit­i­cal given that the 81-year-old singer had a stroke more than two years ago and suf­fered a col­lapse that led to a brief hos­pi­tal­iza­tion ear­lier this year.

“I know what it is to go over the same songs over and over again, and to try to make them per­fect. It’s in­ter­est­ing and it’s hard and it’s dif­fi­cult at the same time,” Flack said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press this week. “You have to stay on top of things.”

The pub­lic will get a chance to hear the re­sult of those mu­si­cal tune-ups, cour­tesy of the Jazz Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica, when it hon­ours her Satur­day.

“I am very ex­cited about the event, to sing, and to per­form. I’m just hop­ing that I can find the right song,” said Flack, whose list of hits in­clude The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Killing Me Softly with His Song.

The Jazz Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica pro­vides as­sis­tance of all types to mu­si­cians who have suf­fered set­backs, whether they’re med­i­cal, fi­nan­cial or both. It was set to give Flack its life­time achieve­ment award at the Apollo The­ater at a con­cert fea­tur­ing Cas­san­dra Wil­son, Alabama Shakes lead singer Brit­tany Howard, Nona Hendryx and more. But Flack col­lapsed back­stage and was rushed to the hospi­tal. The con­cert went on with­out her.

On Satur­day, the foun­da­tion holds its an­nual loft party, where it will hon­our Flack again, and Flack is ex­pected to sing — her first pub­lic per­for­mance in at least a year. Par­tic­i­pants in­clude an­other mu­sic le­gend and friend, Va­lerie Simp­son, along with Macy Gray.

“I’m very ex­cited that they want to give me an award, and I’m ex­cited about the cause of the award, and the whole thing. I’m hyped about it,” Flack said.

Flack spoke to AP at her as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity in Man­hat­tan. Sit­ting in a wheel­chair and look­ing glam­orous with curly hair cas­cad­ing down her shoul­ders, the Grammy win­ner was bright-eyed and ar­tic­u­late dur­ing a nearly 30-minute con­ver­sa­tion, though she oc­ca­sion­ally re­lied on her man­ager to pro­vide her with in­for­ma­tion about the week­end event, to also fea­ture ac­tors Rosie Perez and Michael Im­pe­ri­oli.

When asked if she’d sing one of her old hits, she quickly re­torted: “There’s no such thing as an old hit,” pre­fer­ring the term “clas­sic” in­stead.

“I could sing any num­ber of songs that I’ve recorded through the years, eas­ily, I could sing them, but I’m go­ing to pick those songs that move me,” Flack said. “Now that’s hard to do. To be moved, to be moved con­stantly by your own songs. You need it to be in tune with them, and I don’t mean in tune mu­si­cally, but I mean in tune with the lyrics of the songs, with the words of the songs, and with the mean­ing. You need to be in tune with all of that, and that takes a lit­tle bit of do­ing.”

Her work with the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor from the Jazz Foun­da­tion is part of that keep­ing in tune. Flack’s con­nec­tion to the group started years ago, when they en­listed her to per­form at a ben­e­fit for the late folk great Odetta, who had fallen on hard times.

“Ten years ago, she came out to help us when we were help­ing Odetta, who was one of her idols,” said Wendy Ox­en­horn, the foun­da­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “Roberta has been all of our idols. And now, since her stroke, we’ve been able to give back and help her, which is so beau­ti­ful.”

Ox­en­horn said the foun­da­tion is glad it has an­other op­por­tu­nity to hon­our Flack.

“We didn’t want her to miss this be­cause she is loved around the world, and she’s kept so many of us go­ing through our hard times with her mu­sic, and she’s been such an icon and pioneer in her genre,” she said. “We want her to know how loved she is.”

As for Satur­day’s per­for­mance, Flack said she would likely be ex­cited and ner­vous, and “all those good things that hap­pen be­fore you go on stage.”

She modestly dis­missed ex­pec­ta­tions when a re­porter sug­gested the night would be amaz­ing: “It’s go­ing to be real funky and nice. We’re go­ing to make it a party.”

CHARLES SYKES/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“It’s go­ing to be real funky and nice,” Roberta Flack says of her up­com­ing per­for­mance at the Jazz Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica awards ban­quet. “We’re go­ing to make it a party.”

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