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Roberta Flack’s dad found her 1st piano in a junkyard. It changed her life

The legendary singer explores her music-filled childhood in a new picture book.
Roberta Flack and The Green Piano
Roberta Flack and her children's book, "The Green Piano."Paras Griffin / Getty Images for BET / Random House

The green piano in Roberta Flack's autobiographical children's book — entitled "The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music" — is more than a piano.

The green piano is, yes, a literal upright piano that Flack's father, Laron LeRoy, took from a local junkyard, unable to afford a new one, and painted green for his daughter.

But the refurbished piano also symbolizes Flack's parents' encouragement of their musically inclined daughter.

Speaking to in an email interview, Flack reflected on why her father went to such lengths to support her artistry. (Flack, 85, announced her ALS diagnosis in November 2022. The disease "has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak,” Flack’s manager Suzanne Koga said in a release at the time.)

"He and my mother hoped that the piano would inspire me. Both of them being musical people, they wanted to encourage me. They had been told that I had potential," Flack wrote.

The green piano was a green light, too: Go for it.

Out Jan. 11, the joyfully illustrated book, co-written with Tonya Bolden, tells the story of how the music legend took her first steps onto the path that would lead her to hits like “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

Born in Black Mountain, N.C., Flack's childhood was filled with music. Her mother, Irene Council Flack, was a church organist, and her parents often had jam sessions at home. For Flack, this constant melody in the air was the soil that allowed her to grow.

But she says that this kind of environment is powerful for any child, even ones who don't go on to win five Grammys.

"A home filled with music gives children another language to express themselves. As my friend Angela Davis said, 'Music helps us to feel what we may not be able to say,'" Flack said.

Her career has taken her long past those rooms in the mountains of North Carolina. The documentary "Roberta," which came out in 2022, chronicles her successes — including when she became the first to win back-to-back Grammys for record of the year.

But "The Green Piano" is set in Flack's childhood, before she made history. Clearly a gifted musician, Flack took piano lessons and eventually attended Howard University at the age of 15 on a scholarship. She was signed at Atlantic Records after being discovered in a nightclub.

To this day, when Flack hears music, she's taken back to the warmth of her childhood and to the chords that made her.

"Although I no longer play or sing, when I experience music — it's so much more than just 'listening' for me — I connect to my parents, my teaches, my fans, my peers. Everyone. Music is everything to me," she said.

In "The Green Piano," one sees the makings of a girl whose potential was nurtured. In Flack's career, one sees that potential realized.

Flack, in the notes, has a message to the children starting on their own paths: “Find your own ‘green piano’ and practice relentlessly until you find your voice, and a way to put that beautiful music into the world.”