|The room before Roberta Flack took the stage, but no pictures were allowed of her "before, during or after" the performance.|
|A RESURGENT NIGHT FOR THE ARTS
By Carol Joynt
In a week that could see the federal government shut down due to general dysfunction, at least the capital’s arts community can celebrate signs of life, of getting its fundraising groove back. The Washington Performing Arts Society held its annual gala Saturday night and, with tickets starting at $1200 a couple, not only filled the double wide ballroom of the Wardman Park Marriott but raised more than $1 million.
The money will go to a number of arts and education programs, particularly in the public schools. That was fitting since the evening’s star, Roberta Flack, was a teacher in the DC school system before becoming a Grammy-winning hit maker. Thus, it was also a homecoming.
|From the WPAS program, an undated photo of Roberta Flack.|
|Not only was she a Washington music teacher, but Flack also performed around town. Those of us who lived in Washington in the early 70s had the good fortune of being able to see her “live” and up very close at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill. My friends and I would go whenever we could, sitting just feet from her piano, swooning to her incredible mix of jazz and soul. The club was upstairs, small, dark and perfect for Flack’s intimate style of music. Imagine hearing “Killing Me Softly” in that setting? Yes, it was heaven.
In early 1972, when I moved to New York as a corporate editorial trainee at Time Inc., one of my first pitches to LIFE magazine was to do a story on this budding young star, Roberta Flack. She was on the radar of the connoisseurs, but hadn’t hit the commercial big time yet. That happened after “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was included in Clint Eastwood’s first film, Play Misty For Me, to this day a notable film for a lot of reasons, but particularly the score.
|The evening's theme was India and guests were greeted with traditional dancers.|
|Posed before the gala dinner began.|
|The dancers up close.|
|Clockwise from above: The cocktail cuisine was "Alook Tikki" and "Masala Jheengari." In other words, potato and veggie croquettes and sauteed shrimp with spices; The shrimps; The potato and veggie croquettes. The Indian spices gave the room a wonderful aroma.|
|The finished plates.|
|One of several bars.|
|The silent auction. Among the jewelry, trips, wine and restaurant gift certificates, an unlikely but practical auction item: a generator. It's guaranteed purchase price: $4325.|
|Contemplating the generator.|
|Finlay and Willee Lewis peruse the auction items.|
|Lady in blue.|
|The art of the party dress ...||... and the party necklace.|
|LIFE gave me the go-ahead and I spent time with Flack in New York and also at her home outside DC in a community called Hollin Hills, a leafy Virginia suburb. It seemed odd to find this hip, hot urban singer in an utterly suburban setting, but she was relaxed and happy at home, with a large sunny room for her piano. “They’re grooming me to be the next Aretha,” she said.
Roberta was enthused but intimidated by the prospect of taking on the Queen of Soul, but at that point back-to-back Grammy Awards for Record of the Year were still in her future (1973 and 1974). What I remember best of that day is her trying to teach me to sing. “It’s easy,” she said. “I’ll show you.” With her at the piano and me beside it, this experienced and patient music teacher put me through the paces of “Where Is Love” from Oliver. “Richard Burton can’t sing,” she said, “but look at what he did with ‘Camelot.’ He spoke the words as much as singing them, and it worked. It was great. Try to do that.” Even with the great Roberta Flack as my guide, and King Arthur as my role model, I was horrible and hopeless.“Oh well,” she said. “We tried.”
|There were a number of corporate sponsors, including FedEx.|
|The menu.||Waiter and wines at the ready.|
|Saturday night, even before Flack took the stage, the gala’s approximately 800 guests were treated to a sensational performance: the WPAS-backed Children of Gospel Choir, whose bright voices and energy captured everyone’s attention. After a more than hour-long cocktail party it’s not easy to get that many Saturday night partygoers to find their tables and take their seats, but this group of irresistible young singers got it done. They raised the roof as a symbol of Flack’s musical heritage and WPAS’ charitable mandate.
Flack’s performance came toward the end of the evening, at 10 o’clock, after speeches from WPAS President Neale Perl; the honorary chair, Ambassador Meera Shankar of India; an extended live auction, and dinner of salad, steak, lobster and Cardamaon infused Almond Ganache Fudge Napoleons. At every place setting was a box of “Ethel M” chocolates, the personal favorites of Jacqueline Mars. The Mars corporation was the evening’s chief sponsor, followed by FedEx and Altria.
|The pre-dinner entertainment was provided by the sensational Children of the Gospel Choir, as delightful to watch as to hear ...|
|Neale Perl on the left.|
|The evening's honorary chair, Meera Shankar, the Ambassador of India, as she spoke to the gala's guests.|
|The guests, listening to Ambassador Shankar.||Septime Webre.|
|The word that went out to guests before the dinner was: “PLEASE NOTE ROBERTA FLACK DOES NOT PERMIT PHOTOGPRAPHY OR RECORDING OF HER BEFORE, DURING OR AFTER THE PERFORMANCE!” Unfortunately for fans, the tiny Nikons, Cybershots, Canons and iPhones had to stay tucked away out of sight.
After her performance, as the dancing began, she posed for private photos backstage with the more famous and generous patrons. Everyone went home infused with good music and, to help keep the vibe going, a complimentary CD of Roberta Flack’s “Love Songs.”
|Is that Michelle Obama? No, but ...|
|Elizabeth Keffer and Anna-Lena Kamenetsky.|
|Claude Schoch.||Kathryn Rand of FedEx.|
|Kathryn with Daren Thomas.|
|Tina and Albert Small.|
|WPAS President Neale Perl with Washington DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray.|
|Sylvia A. de Leon, chair of The Washington Ballet.|
|Guests at the dinner.|
|Guests included: Gina Adams, Louise Akerblom, Negar Akhavi, Marlon Allen, Xue Anqi, Amanda Ayoub, Cora Barry, Beverly Bascomb, Joseph Brodecki, Russell Brown, Hans Bruland, Ebs Burnough, Michael Caggiano, Karem Campbell, Dana Carr, Venise Byrams, John Chandler, Roland Celette, Kevin Chaffee, Sela Collins, Frank Robert Cook, Sondra (Sunny) Cook, Josephine Cooper, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Harold Cushenberry, Judge Edward Damich, Roscoe Dellums, Erik Todd Dellums, Dorothy Dickerson, Ben Dinkins, Martha Dippell, Beth Douek, Daniel Douek, Janice Evans, Barbara Fairchild, Horace Fauntleroy, Brad Figel, Joyce Figel, Alfredo Flores, Kathy Fong, Paul Friel, Robert Gabriel, Susan Gagosian, Gruce Gates, Joyce Gates.
Carol's upcoming memoir is Innocent Spouse, excerpted at Vogue.com