A representative for Roberta Flack announced Monday that the Grammy-winning musician has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and can no longer sing.
The progressive disease “has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak,” Suzanne Koga, Flack’s manager, said in a press release. “But it will take much more than ALS to silence this icon.”
The announcement of the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis comes just ahead of the premiere of “Roberta,” a feature-length documentary debuting 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 his 1971 film. “Play Misty for me.”
The release says the Grammy-winning singer and pianist, now 85, “intends to remain active in her musical and creative pursuits” through her eponymous foundation and other avenues.
The Antonino D’Ambrosio-directed documentary will be in competition during the festival and will be available a week after on DOCNYC’s website before airing on television on Jan. 24 as part of the PBS series “American Masters.”
Flack also plans to release a children’s book that month that he co-authored with Tonya Bolden, “The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music.” The North Carolina-born, Virginia-raised Flack is the daughter of pianists and classically trained herself—her talent earned her a full ride to Howard University when she was 15.
“I’ve long dreamed of telling my story to kids about that first green piano my dad bought me from the junkyard, hoping they’d be inspired to achieve their dreams,” Flack was quoted as saying in the release . “I want them to know that dreams can come true with persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most importantly, belief in yourself.”
The television debut of the documentary and publication of the book will begin in 2023, which will also mark the 50th anniversary of her fourth album, “Killing Me Softly,” with a re-release. Her label for the first three decades of her career, Atlantic Records, is also celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Flack suffered a stroke in 2016 and spoke to The Associated Press about returning to performing just over two years later. When asked if she would sing any of her old hits at an event that was due to take place at the time, she quickly replied, “There’s no such thing as an old hit”, preferring the term “classic”.
“I could sing any number of songs I’ve recorded over the years, easily, I could sing them, but I’m going to pick those songs that move me,” said Flack. “It’s hard to do now. Being moved, being constantly moved by your own songs.”