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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 originsEdit

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]

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.[5] 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".[5][6] Gimbel put the phrase in his "idea book" for use at a future time with a parenthesis around the word "blues" and substituted the word "song" instead.[7]

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."[8]

Nevertheless, Fox repudiated Lieberman's role in the song's creation, saying: "We [Gimbel and Fox] wrote the song and [Lieberman] heard it and said it reminded her of how she felt at [a Don McLean] concert. Don McLean didn't inspire Norman or me to write the song but even Don McLean thinks he's the inspiration for the song."[9]

McLean supported Lieberman, both on his website and from the stage of a concert which he invited her to attend in 2010 and in an April 5, 1973 article in the New York Daily News, Norman Gimbel was quoted as agreeing with Lieberman: "She [Lori Lieberman] 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 just kept 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 for the rest of the numbers we wrote for this album and we all felt it had possibilities."[10]

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."[11] In the New York Daily News article,[8] Patricia O'Haire asked Lori Lieberman about how the song came about – what or more specifically who was the inspiration for it:

“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.”)

Norman Gimbel picked up the story. “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.” “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 versionEdit

"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
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]
Format7-inch single
RecordedNovember 17, 1972
StudioAtlantic, New York City[13]
Producer(s)Joel Dorn
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Where Is the Love"
"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Alternative release
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 airline, 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".[9] 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."[19] 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 Pop Vocal Performance, Female, 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.[20]

In 1999 Flack's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[21] 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.[22]


Chart (1973) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[23] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[24] 19
Canada (RPM) Top Singles[25] 1
Canada (RPM) Adult Contemporary[26] 1
Ireland (IRMA) 10
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[27] 3
Norway (VG-lista)[28] 4
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[29] 32
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[30] 6
US Billboard Hot 100[31] 1
US Hot R&B Singles[32] 2
US Easy Listening[32] 2
West Germany (Official German Charts)[33] 30

Fugees versionEdit

"Killing Me Softly"
Single by Fugees
from the album The Score
ReleasedMay 31, 1996
FormatCD single
  • 4:58 (album version)
  • 4:16 (radio edit)
  • 4:00 (radio edit: without intro)
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.[34] The Fugees recording won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal[35] and their video earned the MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39]


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".[40]

Critical receptionEdit

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".[41] 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."[42]

Music videoEdit

The video, directed by Aswad Ayinde[43] and based on Lauryn Hill's ideas, never came out commercially in America.[44] It features Roberta Flack.[40][45]

Bounty Killer remixEdit

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.[37]

Track listingEdit


  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 certificationsEdit

Other cover versionsEdit

Artist Album Year Released
Perry Como And I Love You So 1973
Vicki Lawrence The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia 1973
Eric Gale Forecast 1973
The Jacksons 5 1974
The Undisputed Truth Law of the Land 1973
Dottie West If It's All Right With You / Just What I've Been Looking For 1973
Johnny Mathis Killing Me Softly with Her Song 1973
Lynn Anderson Top of the World 1973
Bobby Goldsboro Summer (The First Time) 1973
Rusty Bryant For the Good Times 1973
Vikki Carr Ms. America 1973
Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77 Love Music 1973
The Ventures Only Hits! 1973
Ellen Freckles 1973
John Holt 1000 Volts of Holt 1973
Anne Murray Danny's Song 1973
Tim Weisberg Dreamspeaker 1973
Maynard Parker Midnight Rider 1973
The Hiltonaires Made in England 6 1973
Shirley Bassey Never, Never, Never 1973
Ray Conniff and The Singers You Are the Sunshine of My Life 1973
Clint Holmes Playground in My Mind 1973
Elaine Delmar Elaine Delmar 1973
New World Believe in Music 1973
Gianni Oddi Oddi 1973
Andy Williams The Way We Were 1974
Petula Clark Come on Home 1974
Charlie Byrd Byrd by the Sea 1974
Janice Hoyte I'm a Winner 1974
Ed Kilbourne Missionary 1974
Joy Fleming Live 1974
Frances Yip Frances Scores Hits 1974
Engelbert Humperdinck My Love 1974
Ohashi Junko Feeling Now 1974
Lena Martell That Wonderful Sound of Lena Martell 1974
Piet Noordijk Prototype 1974
Swingle II Words and Music 1974
Aura Oh, My Love 1974
Jr. Walker & The All Stars Jr. Walker & The All Stars 1974
Bobby Vinton The Bobby Vinton Show 1975
The Les Humphries Singers The Les Humphries Singers Live 1975
Peters & Lee Favorites 1975
The Geoff Love Singers Close to You 1975
Vince Hill Mandy 1975
The Singers Unlimited A Capella II 1975
Tuxen Smilin' Steel 1975
Therapy Bringing the House Down 1975
Peter North Saxomania 1975
Sandra Reemer Trust In Me 1976
Cleo Laine & John Williams Best Friends 1976
The Brothers Four New 1976
Brenda Lee Just for You - Something Nice 1976
Val Doonican Some of My Best Friends Are Songs 1977
Rita Remington Magical, Musical, Memories 1978
Hampton Hawes At the Piano 1978
Howard Carpendale Und so geh'n wir unsere Wege 1978
Precious Wilson On the Race Track 1980
Roberta Flack & Peabo Bryson Live & More 1980
Kimiko Kasai Love Talk 1984
The Eddy Starr Singers 28 Golden Love Songs 1984
Mina Finalmente ho conosciuto il conte Dracula vol. 1 1985
Al B. Sure! In Effect Mode 1988
Casal Histeria 1989
Samurai & Hardbartle SynTronic MegaHits 1990
Linda Imperial Killing Me Softly (Single) 1991
Pandora Matandome Suavemente 1992
Des'ree Why Should I Love You? 1992
Päivi Mäkinen & Mökö Rakkaudesta elämään 1993
Amii Stewart Lady to Ladies 1994
Curiosity Back to Front 1994
Ron Sanfilippo Now and Then 1994
Luther Vandross Songs 1994
Extempo Channel 32 1995
Cassandra Wilson Spirit of '73 - Rock for Choice 1995
Fugees The Score 1996
Michelle Avex Reggae System Vol. 7 1996
Destroy All Monsters Silver Wedding Anniversary 1996
Regina Situations 1996
The Spades Killing Me Softly (Single) 1996
Georgetown Phantoms Spank Your Eardrum 1997
Siiri, Boris Björn Bagger & the International Acoustic Band 1st Acoustic Grafitti 1997
Gitte Hænning My Favorite Songs 1998
Victoria Abril Enciende mi pasión 1998
Nils Landgren Ballads 1999
The BB Band That Soul Sound of the 70's 1999
Cindy Scott Red Hot - Cindy Scott Captured Live in England 2002
Susan Wong Close to You 2002
Marianna Leporace Pop Acústico 2002
Chenoa Mis canciones favoritas - En concierto acústico 2003
Kimberly Caldwell American Idol Season 2 - All-Time Classic American Love Songs 2003
Cheryl Bentyne The Lights Still Burn 2003
Captain Smartypants Undercover 2004
Coco d'Or Coco d'Or 2 2006
Perpetuum Jazzile Čudna Noč 2006
Don Latarski and Marilyn Keller Nightingale 2006
Michael Sagmeister Soul Ticket 2006
The Mardi Gras Band Requests 2007
Georgeana Bonow Pop Bossa - When Pop Goes Bossa 2008
Deborah Sasson Pop Classics 2008
Layla Zoe Live at Errington Hall 2008
Starburkes & The Tea Leaf Acoustic Coffee House 2009
Colbie Caillat iTunes Session 2010
Shanti Snyder Born to Sing 2010
Chelsey Forrest, Kirk Smart Talk to Me Nice 2010
Soul Kitchen-Band feat. Gail Anderson 15 Years Soul Kitchen - The Band 2011
Virginia Belles Good Morning Mr. Jefferson 2011
Afro Blue The Sing-Off Season 3 Episode 6 - Hip Hop (Album) 2011
Harvard Opportunes Out Loud 2011
Joanie Samra - Jesse Green Serendipity 2011
Ruth Jacott Simply the Best - One Woman Show 2012
Katrina Parker The Voice - Killing Me Softly with His Song (Single)
Sussan Kameron Romantic Nights
Keiko Lee Keiko Lee Sings Super Standards 2
Connie Evingson Sweet Happy Life
Sydney Claire Rocks in My Bed
Gary Brown Generations
The Dear Abbeys Proclamation
Miss Murphy The Voice [AU] - Killing Me Softly (Single) 2013
Keaira LaShae The Voice - Killing Me Softly with His Song (Single)
Nancy Sinatra Shifting Gears
Lulu Roman At Last
Ale Vanzella Indie Bossa II 2015
Norah Benatia IDOL 2016 Topp 3 (EP) 2016
Joseph Vincent Killing Me Softly (Single)
Scott & Ben Scott & Ben - Acoustic Cover Sessions Volume 2
Meg Birch Acoustic Covers Pop 2017
Scary Pockets feat. India Carney Nu Funk
Alyssa Bernal Killing Me Softly (Single)
Zhavia Ward 2018
Nicole Cross Shapeshifter

Other uses in popular cultureEdit

  • On the March 27, 2017, episode of the reality television competition show The Voice, Team Alicia (Keys) members Autumn Turner and Vanessa Ferguson performed an arrangement of the Fugees' version of the song in a Battle round. Coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Gwen Stefani all preferred Ferguson's performance, and Keys agreed, naming her the winner of the Battle and advancing her to the Knockout rounds. Soon after, Turner was surprised when both Levine and Stefani attempted to steal her onto their teams. Ultimately, she opted to join Team Adam.
  • On the March 6, 2018, episode of The Voice, Megan Lee performed an arrangement of the song in a blind audition. Her rendition did not impress coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, or new coach Kelly Clarkson, but it did impress coach Alicia Keys enough that she turned her chair, forcing Lee to join Team Alicia by default and advance to the Battle rounds.

See alsoEdit


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  3. ^ "Classic Albums - Don McLean: American Pie". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  4. ^ Billboard Magazine, June 22, 1974. p. 53
  5. ^ a b Davis, Sheila (1984). The Craft of Lyric Writing. Writers Digest Books. p. 13. ISBN 0-89879-149-9. Retrieved 22 September 2010.
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  9. ^ a b Daeida February 2012. p. 11
  10. ^ O'Haire, Patricia, New York Daily News, 1973
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  12. ^
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