Roberta Flack, one of music’s revered talents, returns with her first project in eight years in “Running,” premiering on Billboard today (Oct. 26).
“Running” underscores the indomitable spirit of Flack, who is the distinctive voice behind the Grammy Award-winning classics “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and ″Killing Me Softly with His Song,” among other hits. Although the 81-year-old suffered a stroke in early 2016, the singer/songwriter/musician tells Billboard via email, “The music remains my lifeline. And the lyrics for ‘Running’ speak to where I am now, working to keep going through music.”
The lyrics comprising the song’s chorus succinctly relay that feeling: “And I’ll just keep running/Until my race is done/‘Cause if I just keep running/Then I’ve already won.”
The moving song, written by Levine, is the closing credits song for the documentary 3100: Run and Become. The film, directed by Sanjay Rawal and scored by composer/songwriter Michael A. Levine, focuses on aspirants participating in the annual Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, the longest footrace in the world. Launching a weeklong stand in New York City today at the Village East Cinema, the film will then open in Los Angeles (Nov. 9) at the Laemmle Santa Monica theater before going wide and digital.
It was a string of coincidences that inspired Flack — recently honored by the Jazz Foundation of America for her career achievements — to record “Running.” She was a longtime devotee of the late Guru Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader whose followers included Carlos Santana, Clarence Clemons, Narada Michael Walden and Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis. A proponent of meditation and physical exercise, the New York City-based Chinmoy was an avid runner and sponsor of the 3100 Mile Race in addition to being an author, poet and musician.
“I used to meditate with Guru Chinmoy in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, read his writings and run with him,” Flack recalls.
During this period, Flack met director Rawal, with whom she later worked on various charity projects over the years. It was Rawal who suggested Flack to Levine when the latter said he was looking for a “well-known but older singer” to perform “Running” on the soundtrack. The song is based on the theme music of the film.
“I thought it would be great,” says Levine, whose prior scoring credits include the Jerry Bruckheimer/CBS dramas Cold Case and Close to Home as well as the award-winning documentary Landfill Harmonic. “But I thought how could we possibly? I didn’t know that Sanjay and Roberta were still in touch via her manager Suzanne Koga. Astonishingly, Roberta agreed to do it.”
At the end of the two-day session, Flack left Levine with a special memory he will never forget. “Roberta turned to me,” he explains, “and said, ‘If you need anything else, honey, you call me and I’ll come right back.’ I’ll admit it brought tears to my eyes.”
Listen to “Running” below.