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.
Flak’s director, Suzanne Koga, said in a statement that the advanced disease had “made singing impossible and speaking not easy.” “But it will take more than ALS to silence this code.”
The announcement of her amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis comes just ahead of the premiere of Roberta’s, a feature-length documentary that premieres Thursday at the Doc NYC Film Festival.
Flack is best known for songs 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 thriller Play Misty for Me.
The Grammy-winning singer and pianist, 85, says the release “plans to remain active in her musical and creative endeavors” through her eponymous foundation and other avenues.
Flack also plans to publish a children’s book he co-wrote with Tonya Bolden, Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music. North Carolina-born, raised in Virginia, Flack is the daughter of pianists and is classically trained herself—her talent won her a full trip to Howard University at just 15 years old.
“I have always dreamed of telling children my story about the first green piano my father brought me from the junkyard in the hopes that it would inspire them to reach for their dreams,” Flack is quoted in the statement. “I want them to know that dreams can come true with persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most of all believing in yourself.”
The TV documentary premieres and the book is published in 2023, which will also see the 50th anniversary of her fourth studio album Killing Me Softly celebrated 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 He spoke to the Associated Press After just over two years he’s about to return to performing. When asked if she would be singing one of her old songs at an upcoming event at the time, she quickly replied, “There’s no such thing as an oldie,” preferring the term “classic” instead.
“I can sing any number of songs that I’ve recorded over the years, and easily, I can sing them, but I’ll choose those songs that move me,” Flack said. “Now that’s hard. To be moved, to be constantly influenced by your own songs.”
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