Killing Me Softly With His Song

Album: Killing Me Softly (1973)
Charted: 6 1
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  • "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."
  • Gimbel and Fox also wrote the theme songs to the TV series Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. They are the only credited songwriters on "Killing Me Softly With His Song," but Lori Leiberman has claimed authorship.

    Gimbel and Fox signed Lieberman to a management contract, then wrote and produced most of the songs on her 1972 debut album, including "Killing Me Softly." She released three more albums with songs written and produced by the duo (the last in 1975), but none of them sold well. Along the way, she and Gimbel became romantically involved. According to Lieberman, they ended up suing her to prevent her from recording, and later downplayed her contribution to "Killing Me Softly."

    A press release put out on Lieberman's behalf states: "Lieberman to this day is never given credit for lyrics and her version. McLean said he had no idea the song was about him. 'Someone called me and said a song had been written about me and it was #1,' McLean recalled. 'It was an honor and a delight, and I give Lieberman the credit. My songs have always come from my personal thoughts and experiences, so it's overwhelming when someone is moved and touched by them like Lori was.'"
  • Flack heard Lieberman's version on an in-flight tape recorder while flying from Los Angeles to New York. She loved the title and lyrics and decided to record it herself. In an interview with The New Musical Express, Flack said: "I was flicking through the in-flight magazine to see if they'd done an article on me. After realizing they hadn't, I saw this picture of a little girl called Lori Lieberman. I'd never heard of her before so I read it with interest to see what she had that I didn't." Flack decided to record the song but felt it wasn't complete, so on arriving in New York she went into the studio and started experimenting. She changed the chord structure and ended the song with a major rather than minor chord. Flack worked on the song in the studio for 3 months, playing around with various chord structures until she got it just right.
  • Talking about the first time he heard from Roberta Flack, Charles Fox told Songfacts: "Quincy (Jones) gave her my number. I was at Paramount Pictures one day walking through the music library, and someone handed me a telephone and said, 'This is for you.' And the voice on the other end of the line said, 'Hi, this is Roberta Flack. We haven't met, but I'm going to sing your songs.' So it was kind of magical at that - that thing just doesn't happen to people. She had just won the Grammy Award for 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.' Beautiful record. So it's kind of remarkable to get a call from her in the first place. And she did go on to sing other songs. And actually, she sang on the main title for me of a show that was called Valerie after Valerie Harper."
  • This won Grammys in 1974 for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal. Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" won Record of the Year the previous year, making her the first artist to win the award 2 consecutive years. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • This was a US and UK #1 hit for Fugees in 1996. They did a hip-hop version featuring the vocals of Lauryn Hill. The Fugees wanted to change the lyrics and make it a song about poverty and drug abuse in the inner city with the title "Killing Him Softly," but Gimbel and Fox refused.

    This version won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, and the video won for Best R&B Video at the MTV Video Music Awards. In the UK, it was the best-selling single of 1996, but in America it wasn't released as a song in an effort to propel album sales, which it did: it's parent album The Score sold over 6 million copies in the US.
  • Toni Collette, Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult performed this in the film About A Boy. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • The singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat was first inspired to start singing when she heard the Fugees version of "Killing Me Softly" at the age of 11.
  • The Fugees version is a popular Karaoke choice, but usually not a good one. Kimberly Starling of The Karaoke Informer says: "With a minimal background track virtually every girl loses the melody. They all think they sound great on this one, yet they do not."
  • The song was covered by Leah McFall on the UK edition of The Voice in 2013. Her version landed at #36 on the British singles chart after she sung it in the semi-finals.
  • Alicia Keys hosted the Grammy Awards on February 10, 2019, Roberta Flack's 81st birthday. Keys played part of the song at the ceremony, giving a shout-out to Flack.
  • The Blue Note singer Kandace Springs covered this on her 2020 album The Women Who Raised Me, where she pays tribute to the trailblazing female singers that influenced her, including Flack. "I knew there was no way I should do a 'straight' version similar to the original, or one that sounded like the Fugees," Springs told Songfacts. "That would just sound like a ripoff. So we searched for something new. It has a double-time beat, but the chorus actually goes twice as slow as the verse. My band had a hard time understanding what to do! But it felt great when we finally got it."

Comments: 30

  • AnonymousI know this song is about Jesus Christ at the cross when He looked from one person to another and didn't stay fixed on anyone person. He loves each one of us and His name Jes-us proofs it. He is for us not against us.
  • Mj from Spokane WaYour account includes the invented version of the song’s creation. Lori Lieberman played a huge role in writing the lyrics, as was shown in court with irrefutable video/interview sources.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1973 {February 25th} "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack peaked at #2 {for 4 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart, for its first two weeks at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Love Train" by The O'Jays and for its 3rd and 4th weeks at #2, "Neither One of Us" by Gladys Knight and The Pips was in the top spot...
    At the time, "Killing Me Softly With His Song" was at #5 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, the following week it would peak at #1 {for 5 non-consecutive weeks}...
    Between 1971 and 1992 the Black Mountain, North Carolina native had thirty-two records on the Hot Soul Singles chart, ten made the Top 10 with four reaching #1, "Where Is The Love" {with Donny Hathaway} for one week in August of 1972, "Feel Like Makin' Love" for five weeks in July of 1974, "The Closer I Get To You" {with Donny Hathaway} for two weeks in March of 1978, and "Oasis" for one week in January of 1989...
    Fourteen of her thirty-two charted records were duets; six with Peabo Bryson, five with Donny Hathaway, and one each with Eric Mercury, Sadao Watanabe, and Maxi Priest...
    Roberta Cleopatra Flack celebrated her 84th birthday earlier this month on February 10, 2021...
    And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of Hot Soul Singles Top 10 on February 25th, 1973:
    At #3. "Could It Be I've Fallen In Love" by The Spinners
    #4. "Daddy's Home" by Jermaine Jackson
    #5. "I Got Ants In My Pants" by James Brown
    #6. "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder
    #7. "Neither One of Us {Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye}" by Gladys Knight and The Pips
    #8. "Love Jones" by The Brighter Side of Darkness
    #9. "Give Me Your Love" by Barbara Mason
    #10. "A Letter To Myself" by The Chi-Lites
  • Sh1ny from Bellevue, WaFrank Sinatra also covered the song. He was not mentioned in the article though.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyGrady Tate, legendary jazz drummer and vocalist, died October 8th, 2017, at the age of 85, according to multiple news sources.
    Tate's death was confirmed to NPR by Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director of the Jazz Foundation of America. No cause was given.
    He was on the drums for Simon & Garfunkel's famous 1981 reunion concert in Central Park and played on Robert Flack's "Killing Me Softly."
    Millions of children grew up hearing Tate's vocal talent on many of the 'Schoolhouse Rock' songs from the ABC educational cartoons. He sang on "Naughty Number Nine" and "Fireworks." He also sang on his own album releases.
    Tate was the drummer on the iconic soundtrack for David Lynch's cult television series 'Twin Peaks', which was composed by Angelo Badalamenti. His delicate brush work is a key component of the music. Tate is featured on the song "Grady Groove." He also appeared on the soundtrack for 'Twin Peaks: The Return'...
    He is survived by his wife and son.
    May he R.I.P.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Music lovers,

    As I mentioned last time, the point of this song is the title of the song 'Killing Me Softly'. Because you'd never expect such a tittle like this before even you were very moved by hearing Don sing 'American Pie' in front of you! I think that the title 'Killing Me Softly' came form the movie called 'Godfather' in 1972. It was a movie about an crime family and became a big hit in the world. That means the songwriter of the writing lyrics of the song must had watched that movie and very moved, too! So he thought and wrote the title and lyrics of the 'Killing Me Softly'. There was more, the main theme of the song of that movie 'The Godfather' was called 'Speak Softly, Love' sung by Andy Williams in 1972.
    The rest is history. Does that make sense ? I hope so.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Music lovers,

    I think that the way this song was written was right as written above. Because Don McLean's 'American Pie' was a good song enough to think what this lyrics of the song means for many listeners. So the team of the songwriters of the song 'Killing Me Softly' thought so, too. I think that another factor came into them at that time. Especially for the writer of the lyrics of the song. Because of the tittle of the song ''Killing Me Softly'.
    Have you ever heard the tittle like ''Killing Me Softly' before ? I think this title ''Killing Me Softly' is the point of this song! I wonder where it came from?
  • Victoria from Greenwood, InIn a Daily News article about the song, Norman Gimbel said:
    "Lori is only 20 and she really is a very private person," he said. "She told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean" ("I felt all flushed with fever / Embarrassed by the crowd / I felt he had found my letters / And read each one out loud / I prayed that he would finish / But he kept just right on…")
    "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."
  • Victoria from Greenwood, InAs a kid, I heard that "Please, Mr, Please" (don't play B-17) by Olivia Newton John was referring to "Killing Me Softly With His Song." I have always wondered if anyone else had ever heard that. I have always doubted that such a legend exists, since the lyrics refer to the B-17 song as a country love song. But I thought it would be an interesting chain of songs inspiring songs, if true.
  • Kimberly from Landing, NjOne song can make the difference. as does LIFE, over and over, teaching us our life lessons, as the words become tides of our times at times. If not learned, they will repeat. Songs bring us together to learn.
  • Rob from Boston, MaDave Steinfeld: "There are different stories of what 'Killing Me Softly' was about. Can you shed any light on that?"

    Roberta Flack: "The song was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. Charles Fox is still here, Norman isn't. They wrote the song for a young [singer] named Lori Lieberman. She was a big fan, as I am, of Don McLean.

    Don was working at the Troubadour, where we all went to perform back in the '70s, and [Lori] goes to see him. Norman and Charles have written a song for her called 'Killing Me Softly With His Blues.' By the time she comes back from seeing Don McLean, she was just moved. So she goes back and tells Charles and Norman about this experience and they sit down and rewrite the words. And they basically tell her story.

    I heard it the first time [on an airplane and] I broke out all the blank paper that I had, made my own scores and started to write the song down. I could actually hear myself singing it. When I got to Kennedy Airport, I called Quincy [Jones] before I got in the car and I said, "Listen. You've gotta help me find Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel." He said, "I know Charlie and Norman! What you want, baby?" The rest is history!"

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  • Christopher from Charlotte, Nc Although Lori Lieberman did the song first,she was not the only one to record and/or release it before Roberta Flack.
    Other versions that predate Flack's include: "Hysear" Don Walker, who did the song as a slow jazz instrumental, Anne Murray also did a pre-Flack version, included on her "Danny's Song" Album, that was almost identical to Lieberman's in both style and arrangement. Bobby Goldsboro's regendered version also predated Flacks.

    For me, even though Roberta Flack's version was much more popular, and i like it,
    Lieberman's original, is by far the best version, because it's being sung by the very person
    who had the experience of seeing McLean perform. Lori's has much more feeling to it.
    I also like the early version by Anne Murray as well.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 24th, 1973 "Killing Me Softly with His Song" became #1 and stayed there for four weeks; then "Love Train" by The O'Jays took over the top spot for one week. But "Killing Me Softly with His Song" reclaimed #1 for another week, for a total of 5 weeks at #1 and 16 weeks in the Top 100!!!
  • Fred from Laurel, MdIn the opening line of the refrain, I had always thought she was saying, "Strumming my fate with his fingers," which I find slightly more poetic than "pain," because of that little alliteration (the two f's), which complements the one in the third line ("softly" and "song" - two s's); and when listening to it now, I can hear it either way. But everyone has it the way it appears here ("pain"), so that's probably right. Still, if I ever perform this, maybe I'll do it my way, even though I'm not Paul Anka ;-)
  • Anastasia from Kyiv, UkraineJackson 5 cover is the best, so soul-touching - Michael's voice
  • Lilly from Chicago, IlI love the Fugees cover, it's very beautiful. I just don't like the part in the end where they yell, etc.
  • Kenneth from Albany, NyThe song "empty chairs" was the Don McLean song that inspired this poem. At the time, Don McLean was not A-list.
  • Aya from Nsw, -The Jackson 5 cover of this song is incredible!
  • Bertrand from Paris, FranceOn their second album [b] The Score [b], the Fugees proved that hip hop could be about much more than gangstas. Lauryn Hill's stunning voice was at the heart of this major hit remake of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

  • Stewart from Geelong, Australiafirst time i remember hearing this song was in an episode of Quantum Leap,

    great song from the time when music had feelings
  • T from San Francisco, CaLori Lieberman's song was specifically about Don McLean's little known song "Empty Chairs"
  • Dave from Oak Park, MiFirst heard this song 30+ Years ago in a womens clothing store when I was shopping with my mom when I was Three! She took FOREVER to look at the clothes, make up her mind, and buy her stuff! My lil' sis could at least sleep in her stroller, but me, I was running all over the store hiding under the clothing racks, while this song played! My mom yelled and snapped her finger for me to "Get Out From Under There!"; the ROUND clothing racks were the Best!
  • Alberto Colonna from Turin, ItalyIt was in about a boy OST
  • Jeanie from Clarkesville, GaI have always loved this song. Roberta Flack's version is absolutely one of the sweetest songs ever but I also really like the funked up hip hop version by the Fugees. The first time I heard their version was when they were the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. It was one of the only times I didn't think the updated version ruined the song. Now, knowing it was about Don McLean, makes it mean that much more.
  • Cassandra from Katanning, AustraliaThis song never resignated with me until I found out it is about how she felt after seeing a performance by Don McLean. I've had the same feeling when seeing other artists perform. You get goose bumps it's so good.
  • Bridget from Hull, CanadaThe movie, About A Boy, was the best ever. The song's pretty ill too
  • Stephanie from Denver, Co Me and my friends make fun of this song and sing, "Killin' me softly with his ax."
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesThis is the definitive version of this song - The Fugees' 1996 cover was abysmal.
  • Scott Baldwin from Edmonton, CanadaSpoofed by MAD as "Killing me softly with his bomb".
  • Taylor from Jackson, MiIt was featured in the 2001 movie, About a Boy
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