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Roberta Flack diagnosed with ALS ‘making it impossible to sing’

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Singer Roberta Flack, 85, has been diagnosed with ALS – commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neurone disease – and can no longer sing, her manager says.

The American star, who is also a classically trained pianist, is best known for her hits Killing Me Softly With His Song and The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.

She made history when both hits won a Grammy Award for record of the year in two consecutive years, with The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face winning in 1973 after Clint Eastwood used it as the soundtrack for a love scene in his 1971 movie Play Misty For Me, and then won again for Killing Me Softly in 1974.

In a statement, Flack’s manager Suzanne Koga said the disease “has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak”.

However, she said it will “take a lot more than ALS to silence this icon”.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.

The announcement of the diagnosis comes just days before a feature-length documentary about Flack and her career premieres on Thursday at the DOC NYC documentary film festival in New York. It will air on US TV as part of PBS’s American Masters series in January.

Ms Koga said Flack “plans to stay active in her musical and creative pursuits”, including through her charitable Roberta Flack Foundation which both supports animal welfare and helps children, especially girls, with their music education.

She also plans to publish a children’s book co-written with Tonya Bolden called The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music.

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Born in North Carolina, and raised in Virginia, to pianist parents, Flack won a full scholarship to Howard University at just 15 thanks to her musical talents.

Flack said in a statement: “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.

“I want them to know that dreams can come true with persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most of all belief in yourself.”

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The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of her fourth album, Killing Me Softly, will be celebrated next year with a reissue.

Her label for the first three decades of her career, Atlantic Records, is also celebrating its 75th anniversary.

In 2016 Flack suffered a stroke, but was able to return to performing.

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