Singer Roberta Fleck, 85, has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — and can no longer sing, her agent said.
The American star is also a classically trained pianist, best known for her hits “Kill Me Tenderly with His Song” and “First I See Your Face”.
She made history when two hits won Grammys for Record of the Year two years in a row, and in 1973, Clint Eastwood in his 1971 film Play Misty After using it as a soundtrack to a love scene, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won for me, then again in 1974 with “Kill Me Tenderly” .
In a statement, Flack’s manager, Suzanne Koga, said the disease “has made it impossible to sing and speak”.
However, she said “it will take more time than ALS to silence this icon”.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurological disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.
Just on Thursday at the DOC NYC Documentary Film Festival in New York, a feature-length documentary about Flack and her career announced the diagnosis a few days earlier. It will air on American television as part of PBS’s American Masters series in January.
Ms Koga said Flack “plans to continue to be active in her musical and creative pursuits”, including through her philanthropic Roberta Flack Foundation, which supports both animal welfare and children, especially girls, with music education .
She also plans to publish a children’s book with Tonya Bolden called The Green Piano: How the Ego Finds Music.
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Born in North Carolina and raised in Virginia to pianist parents, Fleck earned her musical talent a full scholarship to Howard University at the age of 15.
“I’ve always dreamed of telling my children the story of the first green piano my father bought me from a junkyard in the hope that they would be inspired to live out their dreams,” Flack said in a statement.
“I want them to know that with perseverance, encouragement from family and friends, and most importantly, belief in yourself, dreams can come true.”
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In honor of the 50th anniversary of her fourth album, Killing Me Softly, it will be re-released next year.
Atlantic Records, her record label for the first three years of her career, is also celebrating its 75th anniversary.
In 2016, Flack suffered a stroke but was able to resume acting.