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Who is “Killing Me Softly” About?

Who is “Killing Me Softly” About?

Killing Me Softly with His Song won a Grammy for Best Song in 1974, gaining popularity and mass appeal.

Although it was a hit, there’s some controversy about who wrote it.

So, we’re diving into the tune’s history to discover the answers.

Let’s check it out!

Who Originally Wrote Killing Me Softly?

Killing Me Softly was crafted by three writers. As a young singer just starting out, Lieberman worked with the writing team of Fox and Gimble at Capitol Records. Let’s examine some details about them.

Charles Fox

An American composer for film and television, Charles Fox, was born in New York City on October 30, 1940. The son of Polish immigrants, he studied jazz piano while in high school and continued his education in Paris. He started his career by writing music for artist Tito Puente and composing for the Tonight Show Orchestra.

He’s the composer of themes for several game shows, including Match Game, What’s My Line?, and To Tell The Truth. He and lyricist Gimble later wrote the compositions for films such as The Last American Hero, Foul Play, and many TV series, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Wonder Woman.

Lori Lieberman

Lori Lieberman was born on November 15, 1951, in California. She’s a singer-songwriter who plays guitar and piano. She garnered attention in the early 1970s by recording several albums for Capitol Records, which included Killing Me Softly with His Song. 

Lieberman’s recording of the song broke the top 200 at #192 but was never a hit. In 1977, she did the vocals for the TV show Schoolhouse Rock on the song Great American Melting Pot. 

Lori recorded another album in 1978 before retiring in the early 1980s. She resumed her recording career in the mid-1990s

Norman Gimbel

Norman Gimbel was born in Brooklyn, NY, on November 16, 1927, and passed away on December 19, 2018. 

An American lyricist of popular songs, television, and movie themes, he wrote the lyrics for the songs Killing Me Softly with His Song, Charles Fox. Additionally, he wrote English-language lyrics for many international hits, including The Girl from Ipanema and Sway. 

In addition to Broadway musicals, he co-wrote five movie themes nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, It Goes Like it Goes, for the 1979 film Norma Rae. The Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted Gimble in 1984. 

So, Who is Killing Me Softly About?

Although it’s disputed, in the 1970s, both Gimbel and Fox agreed with Lieberman about the song’s origin but changed their stories in the late 90s to minimize Lieberman’s contribution. 

However, the other side of the story is Lieberman’s. 

She tells a story of being inspired by a Don McLean performance at the Troubador in Hollywood. She also claims the lyrics were written on a napkin and given to the songwriters. 

Charles Fox says this is an urban legend. However, he recounts that he and Norman Gimble did meet with Lori about songs for her upcoming album. He said she told them about her experience at McLean’s show but that the poem on the napkin didn’t happen.

An illustration of a man with a paper bag on his head singing to a woman who's crying because the music is so good that it's killing her softly.

The songwriting team’s relationship turned sour in 1976 after an affair with Gimbel in which Lieberman ended due to emotional abuse. She asked to terminate her contract, but Gimbel and Fox played hardball and demanded to be paid expenses and to be paid an additional $250,000 from future income. 

In 2008, Gimbel demanded that McLean remove text from his website that said Don was the inspiration for the song. McLean’s lawyer sent a copy of a 1973 New York Daily News article where Gimbel agrees with Lieberman’s account. 

He recounts, “She told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean … I had a notion this might make a good song, so the three of us discussed it. We talked it over several times, just like all the numbers we wrote for the album that we all felt it had possibilities.” 

Based on this, we must say that Killing Me Softly is about Don McLean and Lieberman’s feelings upon hearing him sing the song, Empty Chair. 

Who First Recorded Killing Me Softly?

The initial recording of Killing Me Softly With His Song appeared on the self-titled debut album by Lori Lieberman. A folk singer, she later played soft rock. There are recordings of the song in many genres, including Soul, Hip-Hop, and Pop music.

She recorded three more albums with Capitol Records, and after an acrimonious falling out with Fox and Gimble, she recorded another album entitled Letting Go in 1978. 

Lieberman went into early retirement in 1980 and had three children by the early 90s. Her third husband, Joseph Cali, who played Joey in Saturday Night Fever, convinced the reluctant singer to return to music. Resurgent, she recorded 13 albums between 1996 and 2022. 

Tell me More About Don McLean

Born on October 2, 1945, in New Rochelle, New York, he had become interested in all kinds of music by age five, spending hours listening to the radio and his parents’ records. Having asthma forced Don to miss a lot of school, and while his studies suffered, his love of music blossomed, and he loved performing for family and friends.

As a teenager, he bought a guitar and took voice lessons paid for by his sister. Don developed breath control from the studies along with running and swimming. His asthma improved from these activities as well. 

Interested in folk music, he was inspired by The Weavers. McLean began recording music at 17. After four months of college, Don started a six-year period crafting his art on both coasts. 

In 1969 he recorded his first album, Tapestry. His next album, containing the #1 hit American Pie, launched him into international stardom.

The RIAA poll, 365 Songs of the Century, ranked it #5.

Killing Me Softly has been covered well over 200 times. Artists that have recorded it include the band Pomplamoose who also wrote the theme for Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube channel where the hosts play games, conduct taste tests, and have goofy, friendly fun. 

Other notable artists include Shirley Bassey, Captain Smartypants, and Luther Vandross. Here are a few artists that scored massive hits covering this song.

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