Killing Me Softly with His Song

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"Killing Me Softly with His Song" is a song composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel.


The song was written in collaboration with Lori Lieberman, who recorded the song in late 1971. In 1973 it became a number-one hit in the United States and Canada for Roberta Flack, also reaching number six in the UK Singles Chart. The song has been covered by many artists; the version by the Fugees won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Lori Lieberman version and disputed origins

According to Lori Lieberman, who performed the original recording in 1971, the song was born of a poem she wrote after experiencing a strong reaction to the Don McLean song "Empty Chairs", [1] [2] writing some poetic ideas on a napkin at the Troubadour Club after seeing him perform the song, [3] and then relating this information to Norman Gimbel, who took her feelings and converted them into song lyrics. Gimbel passed his lyrics to Charles Fox, who set them to music. [4]

Don McLean said he had not known that the song described his singing and, when asked about it, said "I'm absolutely amazed. I've heard both Lori's and Roberta's version and I must say I'm very humbled about the whole thing. You can't help but feel that way about a song written and performed as well as this one is." [5]

When Dan MacIntosh (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." [6]

According to Gimbel, he was introduced to the Argentinian-born composer Lalo Schifrin (then of Mission: Impossible fame) and began writing songs to a number of Schifrin's films. [7] Both Gimbel and Schifrin made a suggestion to write a Broadway musical together, and Schifrin gave Gimbel an Argentinean novel— Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar—to read as a possible idea. The book was never made into a musical, but in chapter two, the narrator describes himself as sitting in a bar listening to an American pianist friend "kill us softly with some blues". [7] [8] Gimbel put the phrase in his "idea book" for use at a future time with parentheses around the word "blues" and substituted the word "song" instead. [9]

In a contemporary article from April 5, 1973 in the New York Daily News , however, Norman Gimbel is quoted and seems to agree with Lieberman's account. [10] In the article, Lieberman is asked how the song came about and what its inspiration was. [11]

“Don McLean,” she said simply. “I saw him at the Troubadour in LA last year. (“And there he was this young boy / A stranger to my eyes”) I had heard about him from some friends but up to then all I knew about him really was what others had told me. But I was moved by his performance, by the way he developed his numbers, he got right through to me. (“Strumming my pain with his fingers / Killing me softly with his song/ Telling my whole life with his words.”)

Gimbel's contribution supports Lieberman's stance:

“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.”

Lieberman then adds:

“Norman had a phrase he liked, ‘killing me softly with his blues'”, Lori went on to explain. “But I didn’t feel the word “blues” was quite what the effect was. It wasn’t contemporary enough, somehow. We talked about it a while and finally decided on the word “song” instead. It seemed right then when we did it.”

Roberta Flack version

"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Killing Me Softly with His Song by Roberta Flack US vinyl.png
One of A-side labels of U.S. vinyl single
Single by Roberta Flack
from the album Killing Me Softly
B-side "Just Like a Woman"
ReleasedJanuary 22, 1973 [12]
Format 7-inch single
RecordedNovember 17, 1972
Studio Atlantic, New York City [13]
Genre Soul
Label Atlantic
Producer(s) Joel Dorn
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Where Is the Love"
"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Alternative release
Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly with His Song.jpg
German single picture sleeve
"Killing Me Softly with His Song" on YouTube

Lieberman was the first to record the song in late 1971, releasing it in early 1972. [14] Helen Reddy has said she was sent the song, but "the demo... sat on my turntable for months without being played because I didn't like the title". [15]

Roberta Flack first heard the song on an airplane, when the Lieberman original was featured on the in-flight audio program. After scanning the listing of available audio selections, Flack would recall: "The title, of course, smacked me in the face. I immediately pulled out some scratch paper, made musical staves [then] play[ed] the song at least eight to ten times jotting down the melody that I heard. When I landed, I immediately called Quincy [Jones] at his house and asked him how to meet Charles Fox. Two days later I had the music." Shortly afterwards Flack rehearsed the song with her band in the Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, but did not then record it. [16]

In September 1972, Flack was opening for Marvin Gaye at the Greek Theater; after performing her prepared encore song, Flack was advised by Gaye to sing an additional song. Flack later said, "I said well, I got this song I've been working on called 'Killing Me Softly...' and he said 'Do it, baby.' And I did it and the audience went crazy, and he walked over to me and put his arm around me and said, 'Baby, don't ever do that song again live until you record it.'" [17]

Released in January 1973, Flack's version spent a total of five non-consecutive weeks at #1 in February and March, more weeks than any other record in 1973, being bumped to number 2 by The O'Jays' "Love Train" after four straight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard ranked it as the No. 3 song for 1973. [18] In April of 1973, Canadian singer Anne Murray included her version of "Killing Me Softly" on her album titled Danny's Song .

Charles Fox suggested that Flack's version was more successful than Lieberman's because Flack's "version was faster and she gave it a strong backbeat that wasn't in the original". [19] According to Flack: "My classical background made it possible for me to try a number of things with [the song's arrangement]. I changed parts of the chord structure and chose to end on a major chord. [The song] wasn't written that way." [20] In actuality, the only changes by Flack were the chorus chord under "Fingers" - changed from Major to Minor, and the sung note for "me" in the second "killing me softly" in the chorus differs from Lieberman's. Flack plays electric piano on the track. The bass is played by Ron Carter, the guitar by Hugh McCracken and the drums by Ray Lucas.[ citation needed ] The single appeared as the opening track of the album of the same name, issued in August 1973.

Flack won the 1973 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, for the single, with Gimbel and Fox earning the Song of the Year Grammy.

In 1996 a house remix of Flack's version went to number one on the US dance chart. [21]

In 1999 Flack's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. [22] It ranked number 360 on Rolling Stone 's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and number 82 on Billboard's greatest songs of all time. [23]


Chart (1973)Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) [24] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40) [25] 19
Canada ( RPM ) Top Singles [26] 1
Canada (RPM) Adult Contemporary [27] 1
Ireland (IRMA)10
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40) [28] 3
Norway (VG-lista) [29] 4
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade) [30] 32
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company) [31] 6
US Billboard Hot 100 [32] 1
US Hot R&B Singles [33] 2
US Easy Listening [33] 2
West Germany (Official German Charts) [34] 30

Fugees version

"Killing Me Softly"
Single by Fugees
from the album The Score
ReleasedMay 31, 1996
Format CD single
  • 4:58 (album version)
  • 4:16 (radio edit)
  • 4:00 (radio edit: without intro)
Label Ruffhouse
Producer(s) Fugees
Fugees singles chronology
"Killing Me Softly"
"Ready or Not"
Music video
"Killing Me Softly" on YouTube

Hip hop group Fugees covered the Flack version of the song (as "Killing Me Softly") on their album The Score (1996), with Lauryn Hill singing the lead vocals. Their version became a hit, reaching number two on the U.S. airplay chart. The song topped the charts in the United Kingdom, where it became the country's biggest-selling single of 1996. It has since sold 1.36 million copies in Britain. [35] The Fugees recording won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal [36] and their video earned the MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video. [37]

This version sampled the 90's song "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) from their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm . ATCQ themselves had sampled the riff from the song "Memory Band" from psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection's 1967 eponymous debut album. The Fugees single was so successful that the track was "deleted" and thus no longer supplied to retailers whilst the track was still in the top 20 so that attention could be drawn to the next single, "Ready or Not". Propelled by the success of the Fugees track, the 1972 recording by Roberta Flack was remixed in 1998 with the vocalist adding some new vocal flourishes: this version topped the Hot Dance Club Play chart. Flack and the Fugees have performed the song together since then. [38] In 2008, "Killing Me Softly" was ranked number 25 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop and number 44 on its list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s".


"Killing Me Softly" was the last song the Fugees recorded for The Score, after member Pras made the suggestion to cover it. They wanted to "see how we can create break beats. And of course, we all love A Tribe Called Quest and we went in like 'Okay, let’s cut that sample.'" They then added a bass reggae drop. [39] Initially, the Fugees wanted to change the lyrics of the song to make it anti-drugs and anti-poverty but the songwriters, Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, refused. [40]


The Fugees' version features "percussive rhythms" with "a synth sitar sound, Wyclef's blurted chants, Hill's vocal melisma on the scatted bridge, and a bombastic drum-loop track". [41]

Critical reception

In January 1997, Spin called the song "an instant classic, pumped out of every passing car from coast to coast, with Lauryn Hill's timeless voice never losing its poignant kick". [42] Celebrating the album's 20th anniversary in February 2016, Billboard reviewed the song, saying: "It's a lovely cover that maintains the spirit of the original while taking the material in new directions." [43]

Music video

The video, directed by Aswad Ayinde [44] and based on Lauryn Hill's ideas, never came out commercially in America. [45] It features Roberta Flack. [41] [46]

Bounty Killer remix

The Fugees recorded a dancehall version with Bounty Killer rapping and Hill singing a rewritten chorus. However, they did not receive permission to release it on The Score. [38]

Track listing


  1. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version W/Out Intro) 4:03
  2. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Instrumental) 4:03
  3. "Cowboys" (Album Version) 3:35
  4. "Nappy Heads" (Remix) 3:49


  1. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version With Intro) 4:16
  2. "Fu-Gee-La" (Refugee Camp Global Mix) 4:15
  3. "Vocab" (Refugees Hip Hop Mix) 4:07
  4. "Vocab" (Salaam's Acoustic Remix) 5:54

Charts and certifications

Other cover versions

ArtistAlbumYear Released
Perry Como And I Love You So1973
Vicki LawrenceThe Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia1973
Eric GaleForecast1973
The Undisputed TruthLaw of the Land1973
Dottie WestIf It's All Right With You / Just What I've Been Looking For1973
Johnny MathisKilling Me Softly with Her Song1973
Lynn AndersonTop of the World1973
Bobby GoldsboroSummer (The First Time)1973
Rusty BryantFor the Good Times1973
Vikki CarrMs. America1973
Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77Love Music1973
The VenturesOnly Hits!1973
John Holt1000 Volts of Holt1973
Anne MurrayDanny's Song1973
Tim WeisbergDreamspeaker1973
Maynard ParkerMidnight Rider1973
The HiltonairesMade in England 61973
Shirley BasseyNever, Never, Never1973
Ray Conniff and The SingersYou Are the Sunshine of My Life1973
Clint HolmesPlayground in My Mind1973
Elaine DelmarElaine Delmar1973
New WorldBelieve in Music1973
Gianni OddiOddi1973
Andy WilliamsThe Way We Were1974
Petula ClarkCome on Home1974
Charlie ByrdByrd by the Sea1974
Janice HoyteI'm a Winner1974
Ed KilbourneMissionary1974
Joy FlemingLive1974
Frances YipFrances Scores Hits1974
Engelbert HumperdinckMy Love1974
Ohashi JunkoFeeling Now1974
Lena MartellThat Wonderful Sound of Lena Martell1974
Piet NoordijkPrototype1974
Swingle IIWords and Music1974
AuraOh, My Love1974
Jr. Walker & The All StarsJr. Walker & The All Stars1974
Bobby VintonThe Bobby Vinton Show1975
The Les Humphries SingersThe Les Humphries Singers Live1975
Peters & LeeFavorites1975
The Geoff Love SingersClose to You1975
Vince HillMandy1975
The Singers UnlimitedA Capella II1975
TuxenSmilin' Steel1975
TherapyBringing the House Down1975
Peter NorthSaxomania1975
Sandra ReemerTrust In Me1976
Cleo Laine & John WilliamsBest Friends1976
The Brothers FourNew1976
Brenda LeeJust for You - Something Nice1976
Val DoonicanSome of My Best Friends Are Songs1977
Rita RemingtonMagical, Musical, Memories1978
Hampton HawesAt the Piano1978
Howard CarpendaleUnd so geh'n wir unsere Wege1978
Precious WilsonOn the Race Track1980
Roberta Flack & Peabo BrysonLive & More1980
Kimiko KasaiLove Talk1984
The Eddy Starr Singers28 Golden Love Songs1984
MinaFinalmente ho conosciuto il conte Dracula vol. 11985
Al B. Sure! In Effect Mode 1988
Samurai & HardbartleSynTronic MegaHits1990
Linda ImperialKilling Me Softly (Single)1991
PandoraMatandome Suavemente1992
Des'reeWhy Should I Love You?1992
Päivi Mäkinen & MököRakkaudesta elämään1993
Amii StewartLady to Ladies1994
CuriosityBack to Front1994
Ron SanfilippoNow and Then1994
Luther VandrossSongs1994
ExtempoChannel 321995
Cassandra WilsonSpirit of '73 - Rock for Choice1995
FugeesThe Score1996
MichelleAvex Reggae System Vol. 71996
Destroy All MonstersSilver Wedding Anniversary1996
Regina Situations1996
The SpadesKilling Me Softly (Single)1996
Georgetown PhantomsSpank Your Eardrum1997
Siiri, Boris Björn Bagger & the International Acoustic Band1st Acoustic Grafitti1997
Gitte HænningMy Favorite Songs1998
Victoria AbrilEnciende mi pasión1998
Nils LandgrenBallads1999
The BB BandThat Soul Sound of the 70's1999
Cindy ScottRed Hot - Cindy Scott Captured Live in England2002
Susan WongClose to You2002
Marianna LeporacePop Acústico2002
ChenoaMis canciones favoritas - En concierto acústico2003
Kimberly CaldwellAmerican Idol Season 2 - All-Time Classic American Love Songs2003
Cheryl BentyneThe Lights Still Burn2003
Captain SmartypantsUndercover2004
Coco d'OrCoco d'Or 22006
Perpetuum JazzileČudna Noč2006
Don Latarski and Marilyn KellerNightingale2006
Michael SagmeisterSoul Ticket2006
The Mardi Gras BandRequests2007
Georgeana BonowPop Bossa - When Pop Goes Bossa2008
Deborah Sasson Pop Classics2008
Layla ZoeLive at Errington Hall2008
Starburkes & The Tea LeafAcoustic Coffee House2009
Colbie CaillatiTunes Session2010
Shanti SnyderBorn to Sing2010
Chelsey Forrest, Kirk SmartTalk to Me Nice2010
Soul Kitchen-Band feat. Gail Anderson15 Years Soul Kitchen - The Band2011
Virginia BellesGood Morning Mr. Jefferson2011
Afro BlueThe Sing-Off Season 3 Episode 6 - Hip Hop (Album)2011
Harvard OpportunesOut Loud2011
Joanie Samra - Jesse GreenSerendipity2011
Ruth JacottSimply the Best - One Woman Show2012
Katrina ParkerThe Voice - Killing Me Softly with His Song (Single)
Sussan KameronRomantic Nights
Keiko LeeKeiko Lee Sings Super Standards 2
Connie EvingsonSweet Happy Life
Sydney ClaireRocks in My Bed
Gary BrownGenerations
The Dear AbbeysProclamation
Miss MurphyThe Voice [AU] - Killing Me Softly (Single)2013
Keaira LaShaeThe Voice - Killing Me Softly with His Song (Single)
Nancy SinatraShifting Gears
Lulu RomanAt Last
Ale VanzellaIndie Bossa II2015
Norah BenatiaIDOL 2016 Topp 3 (EP)2016
Joseph VincentKilling Me Softly (Single)
Scott & BenScott & Ben - Acoustic Cover Sessions Volume 2
Meg BirchAcoustic Covers Pop2017
Scary Pockets feat. India CarneyNu Funk
Alyssa BernalKilling Me Softly (Single)
Zhavia Ward 2018
Nicole CrossShapeshifter

See also

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