"When it says, 'I heard he sang a good song,' wow, that's me." —Lori Lieberman
Folk singer Lori Lieberman and her producers were searching for one final song to complete her album, A Thousand Dreams, for Columbia Records.
Lieberman went to the Beverly Hills club, The Troubadour, to see Don McLean perform. She was particularly struck by McLean's words in his tune, "Empty Chairs." Lieberman related to them so much that she stayed after the set and wrote her thoughts down in a poem to share with songwriters Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox.
"It just killed me," said Lieberman. "I really felt like he was singing about me and my life."
Songwriter Charles Fox had a slightly different recollection, however, their stories converge on Gimbel having a book where he'd collected ideas and titles for potential new songs. Thumbing through his book, he found the title, "Killing Me Softly with His Blues." The latter half sounded a bit, Fox recalled, "old-fashioned" to them, so Gimbel changed it to "Killing Me Softly with His Song."
A year or so later superstar songstress Roberta Flack was returning to New York from a concert she'd played with Quincy Jones. On the flight she was listening to the airline's programmed music and heard Lieberman's track. By the time Flack landed, she'd decided to record "Killing Me Softly" herself.
Flack's version became an international hit, soaring to number one on the Billboard charts. Flack won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Gimbel and Fox won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year (1973).
More than twenty years later, the Fugees recorded a cover of the song on their album, The Score, to wide acclaim. It would go on to win the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group (1997).