Fifty years ago, Roberta Flack released her third studio album, Quiet Fire, just six months after Marvin Gaye’s groundbreaking masterpiece, What’s Going On came out in May 1971. At the time, the nation’s emotions were heated and raw with the Vietnam War raging and the Civil Rights movement bringing racial injustice, societal inequality and the ugly truth behind police brutality to the forefront of the American consciousness.
While recording Quiet Fire, a studio engineer quietly captured Flack and her band in a moment of inspiration as they reflected on Gaye’s still-true-to-life hit.
This previously unreleased track appears on Songs for You, Vol. 1 which becomes available on Record Store Day’s first drop date, Saturday, June 12, at participating independent record stores across the United States. Songs for You, Vol. 2 will be available on July 17. To find a record store near you, visit recordstoreday.com.
For this two-volume collection, Record Store Day and Vans, the original action sports footwear and apparel brand, brought legends like Curtis Mayfield and Roberta Flack together with current musicians, including Common, Run the Jewels and Lupe Fiasco to create a compilation series spotlighting Black artists and benefitting Black-owned record stores across the United States.
Today, at age 82, Ms. Flack, a five-time Grammy Award winner and cultural icon, shares her thoughts on this track and why she decided to release it now on this limited-edition vinyl record.
Record Store Day: How did this track come to be?
Roberta Flack: I was very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. On my Quiet Fire album, I wrote a song with Reverend Jesse Jackson called “Go Up Moses.” The day(s) that we recorded that track, my band, Ron Carter, Richard Tee, Terry Plumeri, Hugh McCracken, Chuck Rainey—we were so inspired by Marvin’s song. We were improvising and riffing in the studio with each other. I’m so glad that the engineer recorded what happened that day.
Record Store Day: How do you feel about “What’s Going On” and its message 50 years later?
Roberta Flack: Marvin (Gaye) and Obie (Benson) wrote this song in 1971 about police brutality that they witnessed. Fifty years later, we are still struggling with police brutality. The song was and is about injustice, struggle and that what connects us is stronger than what divides us. I feel so sad about its continued relevance.
Record Store Day: What are your thoughts on new artists sampling your music and celebrating you as a cultural icon?
Roberta Flack: I’m honored that the kids connect to artists like me. Music crosses all borders, languages, ages, and religions. As the universal language, music speaks to us through our feelings. I love hearing how they integrate my tracks in ways I could never have imagined at the time I recorded them.
Record Store Day: You've donated this track to support Black-owned record stores. Why are these stores so important to music, culture and society in general?
Roberta Flack: These stores were places where the Black community came together to discover music, share thoughts and find inspiration. A part of our legacy, these stores are an important part of our history.
About Record Store Day: Record Store Day, the organization, is managed by the Department of Record Stores and is organized in partnership with the Alliance of Independent Media Stores (AIMS), the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and promotes independent record stores year-round with events, special releases and other fun things.
Record Store Day, the global celebration of the culture of the record store, takes place annually. The worldwide pandemic in 2020 required the creation of RSD Drops dates in 2020 and in 2021, RSD Drops will take place on June 12 and July 17 at record stores worldwide.
Record Store Day Sponsors: ADA, Alliance Entertainment, All Media Supply, Andover Audio, Concord, Crosley Turntables, Dogfish Head Brewery, Furnace Record Pressing, Glowtronics, Ingram Entertainment, InGrooves, Jack Daniel’s, Music Business Association, MVD Entertainment, The Orchard, PlayArt, Redeye Distribution, Sony Music, ThinkIndie, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Traffic Distribution, URP Distribution, Vans, Virgin Music Label and Artist Services, WEA