Roberta Flack Shares Afrofunk-Fueled Live Cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” from 1971

The soul icon caps Black History Month with the first-ever digital release of a 1971 live recalibration.

Over the course of more than 50 years, covers of Roberta Flack songs have become pillars of modern r&b and hip-hop.

In 1997, The Fugees took home a Grammy for “Best R&B Performance” for their take on “Killing Me Softly.” And though many will attribute the composition to Flack, the song was written for and released by Lori Lieberman, who failed to put a dent in the charts with the original recording in 1972. Flack’s version, on the other hand, took a fairly obscure song at the time and made it an iconic ballad, which went on to win its own golden gramophone for “Record of The Year” in 1974.

But “Killing Me Softly” wasn’t the first (or last) time the singer righteously recalibrated a song. When Marvin Gaye released his seminal 1971 masterpiece, What’s Going On, Flack didn’t waste a moment. That year, the singer went straight to the studio to cut her own version of the album’s title track, revamping the soul standard with driving percussion and seemingly improvised vocal riffs, turning the song into a jazz-leaning Afrofunk romp. And now, Flack’s version of the politically-minded classic has been released on streamers for the first time ever.

In a press release, the singer described the recording sessions as “electric,” and seemed excited for new ears to have an opportunity to hear her take on the song, though she hopes it won’t take another 50 years for policymakers and pedestrians alike to heed Gaye’s call to action. “The question, sadly, is still relevant. Obie and Marvin’s song lyrics are clear, the emotion in them is unmistakable. I hope that my cover of their song will be heard with familiarity and also some level of urgency,” Flack says in a statement.

Hear Roberta Flack’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” below. Vinyl reissues of selections from Flack’s catalog are available to purchase via Rhino/Atlantic today.


Zo is a staff writer at Okayplayer where he covers music.

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