Roberta Flack, the soulful voice behind the hits “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” has been diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The artist, who is 85 and survived a stroke in 2016, can no longer sing and has trouble speaking as a result of the disease, according to Flack’s rep.
“It will take a lot more than ALS to silence this icon,” the rep said, adding that Flack intends to stay active in musical and creative endeavors.
Flack, nevertheless, is still supporting a documentary about her life, Roberta, which will get a wide screening via PBS on Jan. 24 as part of the network’s American Masters series.
Roberta examines Flack’s artistry: her lyrics and themes, the way she blended classical and soul music into her own songs. Filmmaker Antonino D’Ambrosio, whose credits include the Clash doc Let Fury have the Hour and Johnny Cash film We’re Still Here, directed the picture, which will feature commentary from as-yet-unnamed contemporary artists Flack inspired.
A reissue of Flack’s Killing Me Softly album is also due out next year.
She also has a children’s book she co-wrote with author Hayden Goodman, The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music, coming out on Jan. 10. “I have long dreamed of telling my story to children about that first green piano that my father got for me from the junkyard in the hope that they would be inspired to reach for their dreams,” Flack said in a statement. “I want them to know that dreams can come true with persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most of all belief in yourself.”
In 2018, Flack described the importance of music to her in an Associated Press interview. “I could sing any number of songs that I’ve recorded through the years, easily, I could sing them, but I’m going to pick those songs that move me,” Flack said of a then-upcoming performance. “Now that’s hard to do. To be moved, to be moved constantly by your own songs. You need it to be in tune with them, and I don’t mean in tune musically, but I mean in tune with the lyrics of the songs, with the words of the songs, and with the meaning. You need to be in tune with all of that, and that takes a little bit of doing.”