Roberta Flack Reveals ALS Diagnosis

Monday, November 14, 2022
Roberta Flack - © Jeri Jones Photography

Music legend Roberta Flack has revealed that she is battling the disease ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease). She can no longer sing, and speech is difficult as a result of her diagnosis. Still, Flack's spirit and mood are high, as she prepares to be celebrated this week with new documentary, Roberta, which is set to premiere Thursday, November 17, in competition at DOCNYC, the nation’s largest documentary film festival, at the SVA Theatre at Manhattan’s School of the Visual Arts, followed by a Q&A with its director Antonino D'Ambrosio.

Festival public online viewing will be available for one week via the festival’s website from November 18 to 27. It will be available to the general public on television on January 24, 2023 as part of the prestigious PBS “American Masters” series.

Per the press release, "the movie explores the depth and complexity of her lyrical and thematic choices as well as the sophisticated mix of classical and soul influences on her style in a marvelous monument to a singular and unclassifiable musical genius, with commentary from contemporary artists whom she has inspired. Filmmaker and author D'Ambrosio has written books about such other musical legends as Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer (The Clash), and previously directed 17 short films and documentary series on vital political, cultural, and historical matters and other similar topics."

Celebrations of Flack's enduring musical genius continue to 2023, which marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Roberta’s landmark fourth album, Killing Me Softly. Rhino Records will celebrate the occasion with a commemorative reissue of the record, which reached #3 on the Billboard album chart, sold more than two-million copies in the US and was nominated for an Album of the Year GRAMMY® award.

Next year also marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of Atlantic Records, the New York City-based record label that was pivotal in the growth of R&B and soul music into a mainstream commercial force. After the label signed Flack in 1969, as it was enjoying success as a groundbreaking rock label with acts like Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills & Nash, she reinvigorated its stature as a premier pop and soul music powerhouse. Her legacy will no doubt be a central feature in the commemorations.

On January 10, a children’s book co-authored by Roberta Flack that tells of her musical beginnings, The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music, will be published by Anne Schwartz Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

Already hailed by Kirkus Reviews as “a moving testimonial to the effects of instilling a love of live music in childhood,” the heartwarming autobiographical picture book recounts how her father found an upright piano in a junkyard that he restored and painted green for his nine-year-old daughter, beginning a tale of how music lifted Flack from her humble beginnings in a small rural North Carolina community to international superstardom. It was co-written by Tonya Bolden, an acclaimed and awarded author who has penned, collaborated on, or edited more than 40 books, primarily for young readers, and features charming artwork by Hayden Goodman.

“I have long dreamed of telling my story to children about that first green piano that my father got for me from the junkyard in the hope that they would be inspired to reach for their dreams,” Flack said. “I want them to know that dreams can come true with persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most of all belief in yourself.”