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Commencement Speaker
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Commencement 2003

Picture of Roberta Flack

Commencement Speaker

Roberta Flack, BME
Doctor of Music

John Laughton, BM, MM, DMA

Roberta Flack was born in Asheville, North Carolina. The daughter of a church organist, she started playing the piano early in life. Her talent and hard work resulted in a scholarship to Howard University where she received a bachelor’s degree in music education at the age of 19. She then started teaching students music and English, directed a school choir, supervised cheerleaders, and conducted special needs classes. All of these activities ascertain to her life-long dedication to giving young people the means to furnish themselves with the opportunities to succeed.

Her spectacular musical career began when she was discovered singing and playing jazz in a Washington nightclub by pianist Les McCann, who recommended her to Atlantic Records. Two albums garnered considerable acclaim for their skillful, often introspective, content before she achieved huge success with a poignant version of folk-singer Ewan MacColl’s ballad, “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” It became a major international hit after its inclusion in the film “Play Misty For Me.” Collaboration with Howard classmate Donny Hathaway produced many more hits. She was devastated when he committed suicide in 1979, but then established a fruitful partnership with Peabo Bryson.

She spent most of the '80s touring and performing, often with orchestras, and also several times with Miles Davis. In 1991 her duet with Maxi Priest, “Set the Night to Music,” was among the Top Ten on the charts. For many years her music has enriched the lives of people around the world, and it will continue to do so for future generations.

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