ALS diagnosis takes away Roberta Flack’s ability to sing

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R&B singer Roberta Flack has been diagnosed with ALS, her manager announced this week, and the disease has “made it impossible to sing.”

Flack had three hits top the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1970s. Her first was “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in 1972, then “Killing Me Softly With His Song” the next year, according to Billboard. “Feel Like Makin’ Love” in 1974 capped that run.

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She won four Grammy awards out of her 14 nominations, according to the Recording Academy’s website. She won the Record of the Year award two years in a row, in 1973 and 1974. She was the first performer to win the award back to back, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” charged back into the music scene when the Fugees covered the song. Their version won the Grammy for best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocal in 1997.

The Recording Academy’s National Trustees awarded Flack with its lifetime achievement award in 2020.

Flack was an important voice for Quiet Storm, which was a radio format that started in DC and played smooth R&B geared toward Black listeners. She attended Howard University at age 15 on a music scholarship, according to a Howard alumni website.

Word of her ALS diagnosis drew love from fans online. “I was *just* going through Roberta Flack’s catalog and I have a few of her albums on vinyl, but I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves at all. She’s been a force for a long time,” one fan tweeted.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes nerve cells to slow and die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A lack of functioning nerve cells robs people of the ability to trigger specific muscles, including the muscles around the lungs and mouth along with the vocal cords themselves, according to the ALS Association.

Like most noncommunicable diseases, ALS cases are not reported to federal health officials, so the CDC conducts surveys to study its prevalence. The latest survey was published in 2017 and found that there were between nearly 18,000 and 31,000 cases of ALS in the United States.

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The announcement from Flack’s manager included details about a documentary named “Roberta” set to premiere Thursday at the DOC NYC film festival at the SVA Theater in Manhattan.

“Flack plans to stay active in her musical and creative pursuits,” her manager wrote. Flack has her own foundation that educates and mentors girls.

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