"Killing Me Softly With His Song" was written by the songwriting team of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, and first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1972. According to Lieberman, the song was inspired by Don McLean, a singer/songwriter famous for his hit "American Pie
." After being mesmerized by one of his concerts at the Troubadour theater in Los Angeles - and in particular McLean's song "Empty Chairs
" - Lieberman wrote a poem on a napkin describing how she felt about McLean's performance and brought it to Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who were writing songs for her new album.
In a 1973 interview with the NY Daily News
, Gimbel said: "She told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean. I had a notion this might make a good song so the three of us discussed it. We talked it over several times, just as we did with the rest of the numbers we wrote for the album and we all felt it had possibilities."
When Songfacts spoke with Charles Fox in 2010
, he refuted this story: "I think it's called an urban legend. It really didn't happen that way. Norman Gimbel and I wrote that song for a young artist whose name was Lori Lieberman. Norman had a book that he would put titles of songs, song ideas and lyrics or something that struck him at different times. And he pulled out the book and he was looking through it, and he says, 'Hey, what about a song title, 'Killing Me Softly With His Blues'?' Well, the 'killing me softly' part sounded very interesting, 'with his blues' sounded old fashioned in 1972 when we wrote it. So he thought for a while and he said, 'What about 'killing me softly with his song'? That has a unique twist to it.' So we discussed what it could be, and obviously it's about a song - listening to the song and being moved by the words. It's like the words are speaking to what that person's life is. Anyway, Norman went home and wrote an extraordinary lyric and called me later in the afternoon. I jotted it down over the phone. I sat down and the music just flowed right along with the words. And we got together the next morning and made a couple of adjustments with it and we played it for Lori, and she loved it, she said it reminds her of being at a Don McLean concert. So in her act, when she would appear, she would say that. And somehow the words got changed around so that we wrote it based on Don McLean, and even Don McLean I think has it on his Web site. But he doesn't know. You know, he only knows what the legend is."