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Hey, kids! You may remember Roberta Flack, that ’70s singing sensation who got her start in D.C. and went on to make big hit records (“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Killing Me Softly”), was the headliner of this year’s DC Jazz Festival Lisner Auditorium Concert. She held her own quite fearsomely against the more jazz-associated singers at the festival. Well, now she’s a (more or less) permanent part of the fest. Not so much as a singer, per se; instead, Flack has been unanimously elected to the board of directors.
In addition, the DCJF Education Program has been named in her honor: the Roberta Flack Music Excellence Program. The program offers free concerts, workshops, after-school programs, and master classes in partnership with DCPS and public charter schools, the Sitar Arts Center, and the Boys and Girls Club. Flack is the honorary chair of the DCJF Education Committee. A graduate of Howard University, she was teaching in the DCPS before jazz pianist Les McCann saw her perform at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill and secured her an Atlantic Records audition. Afterwards she involved herself even more heavily in music education, founding the Roberta Flack School of Music in the Bronx.
So does this mean a marked increase in “Killing Me Softly” cover artists, or a more folk-soul-friendly festival? Probably not. DCJF has its own artistic director, legendary clarinetist Paquito d’Rivera. What this election does is up the fest’s prestige factor in the arts community, and bring aboard somebody with a hell of a grasp on music and music education. So don’t grumble, purists; this is a good thing.