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"Killing Me Softly" with Roberta Flack is the Song of the Day for February 24

Robert Flack, Isaac Hayes
Harold Filan/AP
FILE - In this March 4, 1974 file photo, Roberta Flack holds the Grammy award for her record, "Killing Me Softly With His Song" as singer Isaac Hayes, right, looks on at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. A representative for Flack has announced that the legendary singer has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and can no longer sing. (AP Photo/Harold Filan, File)

Our Song of the Day, “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” needs a lie detector to figure whose story is the truth.

Long-forgotten singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman said she got the inspiration for the song while listening to Don McLean sing “Empty Chairs” at a club in 1971. She wrote some notes down on a napkin and then called songwriter Norman Gimbel, who also was her co-manager and secret lover.

She told him how much the words had grabbed her. Gimbel said their conversation reminded him of a song title he had scribbled in his notebook, “Killing Us Softly with Some Blues.”

Gimbel took Liebarman’s notes and finished the lyrics. Co-manager Charles Fox wrote the music. Lieberman then recorded it, but it never charted. Gimbel confirmed this story many times, including in a 1973 New York Daily News interview.

Gimbel and Fox’s story changed in 1997. Why? Maybe because Gimbel divorced his wife, but Lieberman broke off the relationship and never married him. Maybe because of lawsuits over Lieberman’s contract. Whatever the reason, Gimbel and Fox, who by way, wrote the TV theme songs to “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley,” called Lieberman’s story an urban legend.

Fox, in a 2010 interview with songfacts.com, said Lieberman had nothing to do with the song. They took the title from Gimbel’s notebook, but thought blues was outdated and changed it to song.

Roberta Flick heard Liberman’s version on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. She spent three months experimenting with different chord changes before recording it. The song spent five weeks as number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973 starting February 24, 1973. The song won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Song of the Day is a co-production of Sheldon Zoldan and WGCU. If you enjoy this kind of storytelling, please support WGCU today. Thank you.