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Roberta FLack: Killing Me Softly

TDR-Classic Song and Artist: ROBERTA FLACK and KILLING ME SOFTLY. This was interesting for me personally; while doing the research I found that the song was written by a lady named Lori Lieberman about Don McLean, not Roberta Flack who had the hit. the real story is that in 1971 Ms Lieberman saw McLean at the Troubadour Club in L.A. and was so moved by his  performance that she wrote a poem on a napkin and took it home with her. She passed the poem on to songwriter Norman Gimble who wrote lyrics based on her memory and his partner Charles Fox wrote the music. Lori Lieberman recorded it, but "Killing Me Softly" only got minor exposure.

 

However, it was on an in-flight musical program that Roberta Flack heard on a plane in 1972, and as she told it: "The title, of course, smacked me in the face. I immediately pulled out some scratch paper, made musical staves then played the song at least eight to ten times jotting down the melody that I heard. When I landed, I immediately called Quincy Jones at his house and asked him how to meet Charles Fox. Two days later I had the music." Who else would she call but "Q" Quincy Jones.

 

She went to Jamaica to record some tunes, but didn't do "Killing Me Softly" at that session, then later in the year she was opening for Marvin Gaye at The Greek Theater in L.A. and needed another song for her encore, as she told the story: "I said well, I got this song I've been working on called 'Killing Me Softly...' and he said 'Do it, baby.' And I did it and the audience went crazy, and he walked over to me and put his arm around me and said, 'Baby, don't ever do that song again live until you record it," referring to the possibility that another artist would hear her sing it and beat her to the Studio.

 

Atlantic Records released her recording in January of 1973 and Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" zoomed up to #1 on the Hot 100, starting a run of five non-consecutive weeks in the Top Spot in February and March, more than any other record that year, and was the third best selling record in 1973. You might ask, "How did Don McLean feel about this?" Well Don said at first he didn't know the song described him and, when asked about it, said "I'm absolutely amazed and humbled, about the whole thing. You can't help but feel that way about a song written and performed as well as this one is."

 

Roberta Flack won the 1973 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, and the writers Gimble and Fox got the Song of the Year Grammy. Then in 1999 Flack's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Why did Flack's version do so much better than Liebermans? Well Charlie Fox said that it was sped up and had a back-beat, and Roberta said that her Classical Background enabled her to arrange the chord structure and chose to end on a major chord. "The song wasn't written that way."

 

In the TDR tradition of putting up Live versions of the songs whenever possible, Scott found a wonderful clip of Roberta Flack singing her signature song, "Killing Me Softly" in Concert with a full compliment of musicians and backup singers, her performance is truly beautiful. @therealdonrocks

 

A version of this post originally appeared on The Don Rocks Facebook page. For more stories like these every day, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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