Roberta Flack is a singular American musical talent. PBS takes a closer look at her storied career in an American Masters portrait tomorrow night. Her breakthrough song, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” is a masterpiece of musical poetry that continues to stir hearts of all ages a half a century since its release.
The song, in fact, wasn’t written by Ms. Flack, but by English folk singer, Ewan MacColl, who performs it at a much faster tempo. In 1971, Clint Eastwood was at work directing his first film, “Play Misty For Me.” He was gathering songs he wanted to use in the movie when he heard “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” on the radio. He called up Flack and worked out details to include it in the film, paying the singer $2000 for permission.
When Ms. Flack expressed concern that the song was too slow, and said she’d be happy to re-record it, Eastwood assured her the tempo was perfect as is.
These lyrics transport us:
The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies, my love,
To the dark and the endless skies.
At 5:22, Flack’s interpretation of MacColl’s masterpiece is a rather long song, and yet it makes such a lovely first dance song at weddings.
Here’s a shorter version, 3:14, performed live:
“It tells a story”
The best songs tell a story, and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” certainly does that, says Flack:
“It’s a perfect song. Second only to “Amazing Grace, I think… It’s the kind of song that has two unique & distinct qualities: it tells a story, & it has lyrics that mean something….Because of [its meaningful lyrics] the [song] can be interpreted by a lot of people in a lot of different ways: the love of a mother for a child, for example, or [that of] two lovers.” I wish more songs I had chosen had moved me the way that one did. I’ve loved [most] every song I’ve recorded, but that one was pretty special.”
George Michael covered the song, and the music video below uses scenes from the 2020 movie, “I Still Believe,” to tell a story of one couple’s romance:
Feel Like Makin’ Love
Roberta Flack’s repertoire of potential first dance songs goes beyond just “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She had a monster hit in 1974 with “Feel Like Makin’ Love:”
The Closer I Get to You
Flack had another #1 hit with “The Closer I Get to You,” sung with regular collaborator, Donnie Hathaway:
What is there about Roberta Flack’s voice that just pulls you into a song? This is the kind of talent a professional DJ company like ours appreciates. There is such emotion, such depth in her styling of a song. She makes you forget your troubles and simply embrace the moment, just the way a Long Island wedding celebration should be.
Whatever your favorite songs, Brian Howard Entertainment & Talent will play it on high-end equipment that honors the purity of a voice like Roberta Flack’s. We’ll take her songs to the next level with mood-enhancing lighting. Take a minute right now to see if we’re available for your date.
And don’t forget to watch the Roberta Flack special tomorrow night on PBS!