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Roberta Flack announces she has ALS

Singer Roberta Flack, performing during the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2010.
Kevin Winter
Getty Images
Singer Roberta Flack, performing during the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2010.

The beloved singer Roberta Flack has announced through a spokesperson that she is battling ALS. The brain disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, has made it "impossible to sing and not easy to speak," the spokesperson said in a press release on Monday.

The statement did not disclose how long ago Flack was diagnosed with the fatal condition.

The statement continued: "Miss Flack plans to stay active in her musical and creative pursuits. Her fortitude and joyful embrace of music that lifted her from modest circumstances to the international spotlight remain vibrant and inspired." The North Carolina native is now 85 years old and has won four Grammy Awards, as well as a lifetime achievement prize in 2020.

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Flack's most famous album, Killing Me Softly. The title tune, which was originally recorded by vocalist Lori Lieberman, was also famously covered by Fugees in 1996, with Lauryn Hill on lead vocals. Last year, Rolling Stone named both Flack's and Fugees' versions of "Killing Me Softly With His Song" to its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

In January, Flack will publish a children's book that she co-authored with Tonya Bolden and which tells the story of her childhood, called The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music. The book is centered on the piano that Flack's father rescued for her from a junkyard, and set her on a musical path. Also in January, a documentary about Flack called Roberta will air on PBS' "American Masters" series, after premiering at New York's DOCNYC film festival later this month.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.