NEW YORK — A representative for Roberta Flack announced on Monday that the Grammy-winning musician has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and can no longer sing.
The progressive illness “made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak,” Flack’s manager Suzanne Koga said in a statement. “But it will take more than ALS to silence this icon.”
The announcement of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis comes just ahead of the premiere of “Roberta,” a feature-length documentary that debuts Thursday at the DOCNYC film festival.
Flack is known for hits like “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face”, the latter of which catapulted her to stardom after Clint Eastwood used it as the soundtrack to a love scene in her 1971 film. “Play Misty for me.”
The statement said the Grammy-winning singer and pianist, now 85, “plans to remain active in her musical and creative endeavors” through her eponymous foundation and other avenues.
The Antonino D’Ambrosio-directed documentary will be in competition at the festival and available on the DOCNYC website for one week, before airing on television Jan. 24 as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series.
Flack also plans to publish a children’s book co-authored with Tonya Bolden, “The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music,” that month. Flack, born in North Carolina and raised in Virginia, is the daughter of pianists and classically trained herself – her talent earned her a full course at Howard University at just 15 years old.
“I have long dreamed of telling my story to children about that first green piano my dad bought me from the junkyard in hopes that they would be inspired to follow their dreams,” Flack said in the statement. . “I want them to know that dreams can come true with perseverance, encouragement from family and friends, and above all, self-belief.”
The documentary’s television debut and book publication begin in 2023, which will also see the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of her fourth album, “Killing Me Softly,” with a reissue. His label for the first three decades of his career, Atlantic Records, is also celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Flack suffered a stroke in 2016 and spoke to The Associated Press just over two years later about his return to performing. When asked if she would sing one of her old hits at an upcoming event, she quickly replied: ‘There are no old hits’, preferring the term ‘classic’ instead. .
“I could sing any number of songs I’ve recorded over the years, easily, I could sing them, but I’m going to choose the songs that resonate with me,” Flack said. “Now that’s hard to do. To be moved, to be constantly moved by your own songs.”
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