Roberta Flack has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and can no longer sing, a rep for the Grammy winner announced on Monday (Nov. 14).
Due to her diagnosis, it is now “impossible to sing and not easy to speak” for the star, per a press release, “but it will take a lot more than ALS to silence this icon.” Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, impacts the muscles that control eating, walking, speaking and more. Approximately 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The announcement comes just days before the release of Roberta, which will premiere at DOCNYC on Nov. 17. The film explores the complexity of Flack’s lyrical and thematic choices as well as the classical and soul influences that helped her develop her musical style and subsequently inspired many others. 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 was famously used in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film, Play Misty for Me. The song also won the record of the year Grammy in 1973.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song,” meanwhile, won two Grammys at the 1974 ceremony, including record of the year and best pop vocal performance, female. 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of Flack’s landmark fourth album, Killing Me Softly. To celebrate, Rhino Records will unveil a commemorative reissue of the record.