Song of the Week – Compared to What, Roberta Flack

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Today’s SotW installment continues the series of posts in recognition of Black History Month.

I recently watched the PBS American Masters documentary about Roberta Flack.  It was very enjoyable and informative.  While I was well aware of her solo hits (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”) and duets with Donny Hathaway (“Where Is the Love”), I didn’t realize how much of her repertoire was dedicated to the confronting social issues affecting the Black community.

Flack was a serious woman.  She was educated at HBCU Howard University (entering at the age of 15!) and studied music (piano and voice), before becoming a teacher.

Her musical career began in Washington, DC, where she held residencies at the Tivoli Club, the 1520 Club, and later, Mr. Henry’s.  She was “discovered” by Les McCann who helped connect her to Atlantic Records for a recording contract.

“Compared to What” was written by Eugene McDaniels, who was featured in a SotW earlier this month.  The recording was Flack’s first single.  Her release was first, but a later version recorded by McCann with Eddie Harris became more popular.

Lyrically, “Compared to What” is a protest of the social conditions that existed in late 60s/early 70s America – especially the Vietnam war.

Said the President, he’s got his war
Folks don’t know just what it’s for
No one gives us rhyme or reason
You have one doubt, they call it treason
I said we’re chicken feathers, all without one gut.
Tryin’ to make it real, but compared to what?


Unreal values, crass distortion
Unwed mothers need abortion

The timeless relevance of the lyrics is astounding!

The American Masters documentary is streaming if you want to see it:

American Masters – Roberta Flack

Enjoy… until next week.