'Killing Me Softly' musician Roberta Flack no longer able to sing after diagnosis with ALS

Roberta Flack
Legendary musician Roberta Flack. Credit: AP

Musician Roberta Flack is no longer able to sing, after being diagnosed with ALS, a representative says.

Flack’s manager Suzanne Koga said the disease “has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak" but will not “silence this icon.”

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease in the US, and more broadly under the umbrella term motor neurone disease (MND) in the UK, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

MND affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that tell the muscles what to do, and can cause sufferers to lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe over time.

The announcement of the diagnosis comes just ahead of the premiere of Roberta, an Antonino D’Ambrosio-directed feature-length documentary debuting on Thursday at the DOCNYC film festival.

The release issued by Flack's representatives on Monday said the Grammy-winning singer and pianist, 85, “plans to stay active in her musical and creative pursuits.”

Flack is known for hit songs including Killing Me Softly With His Song and The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. The latter catapulted her into stardom after Hollywood star Clint Eastwood used it as the soundtrack for a love scene in his 1971 movie Play Misty for Me.

Flack will shortly publish a children's book co-written with Tonya Bolden, The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music.

The North Carolina-born, Virginia-raised musician is the daughter of pianists and classically trained herself — her talent won her a full ride to Howard University at just 15.

“I have long dreamed of telling my story to children about that first green piano that my father got for me from the junkyard in the hope that they would be inspired to reach for their dreams,” Flack was quoted in the release about her upcoming book.

“I want them to know that dreams can come true with persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most of all belief in yourself.”

The documentary's television debut and book's publication kick off 2023, which also will see the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of her fourth album, Killing Me Softly, with a reissue.

Roberta Flack holds the Grammy award for her record, "Killing Me Softly With His Song" in 1974 as singer Isaac Hayes, right, looks on. Credit: AP Photo/Harold Filan, File

Flack had a stroke in 2016 and spoke to The Associated Press a little over two years later about returning to performing.

When asked if she’d sing one of her old hits at a then-upcoming event, she retorted: “There’s no such thing as an old hit,” adding she preferred the term “classic” instead.

“I could sing any number of songs that I’ve recorded through the years, easily, I could sing them, but I’m going to pick those songs that move me,” Flack said.

“Now that’s hard to do. To be moved, to be moved constantly by your own songs."

Listen to the ITV News entertainment podcast Unscripted