The charmingly-told story of what inspired Roberta Flack, a five-time grammy Award winner, begins:
“Little me, in my Blue Ridge Mountain town
of Asheville, North Carolina,
living on a street named Velvet,
then on one named Circle,
I didn’t have fancy-fine clothes,
high-priced toys, or other richy-rich
But I had music.
During the time she was growing up, her father taught himself to play piano and harmonica, and her mother also played the piano as well as the organ at church. Roberta dreamed of having her own piano.
Then, “Older me, age six, started taking piano lessons…”
The family moved to Arlington, Virginia, close to D.C., to “a home where Mother, Daddy, neighbors, friends made music together.” Roberta still dreamed of having a piano of her own.
One day driving by a junkyard, her daddy spied a piano, “something he just knew would make nine-year-old me burst into a thousand smiles.”
It was a small upright piano. It was all beat up, but her daddy brought it home and put his all into fixing it up. He worked and worked on it, and then painted it a grassy green.
The minute the paint was dry, Roberta started playing. She practiced for hours and hours, teaching herself to play songs, and taking piano lessons again. Soon she started singing along to the music, and then got an even bigger dream – “of a life all wrapped up in the majesty, the magic of music – my treasure, my gold.” And “Grown-up me lived this dream! Year after year after year!”
An NPR story recounted:
“When she was just 15 years old, Flack received a full music scholarship to Howard University. In the early 1960s, she was teaching in public schools by day and moonlighting as a singer and pianist by night. But by the end of the decade, she had to quit the classroom. Her soulful, intimate recordings were selling millions of albums around the world. With international touring and recording, music became a full-time career.”
But along the way, she reports in this book, she never forgot:
The book ends with an Author’s Note which includes fascinating biographical information, a delineation of career highlights, and a touching list of acknowledgments, including thanks to her mother for believing in her and to her father “for my first piano – for all that it took to get it, move it, paint it, tune it – the start of my true life in music.” Adult fans (has it really been 50 years since the release of her classic hit, “Killing Me Softly with His Song” ??!!) will especially enjoy these additional details of her journey.
Illustrations by Hayden Goodman are done in gouache paintings, with some finishing details rendered digitally. The artwork ably conveys the joy that infused little Roberta’s heart from music.
Evaluation: Readers aged 6 and up will no doubt love the way this story is told in the excited voice of a little girl, although written by a grown-up mega star who is now 85 years old. She has been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurological disease that has rendered her unable to sing or even speak. But before that, she made sure her story got out for kids to read, along with her advice, as she says in her note, to “Find your own ‘green piano’ and practice relentlessly until you find your voice, and a way to put that beautiful music into the world.”
Published by Anne Schwartz Books, an imprint of Random House, 2023
Oh wow. I love her rendition of Killing Me Softly, my all-time favourite song.
I know! And since I wrote that post, I can’t get it out of head, LOL