In 1971, a young woman named Lori Liebermann went to hear Don McLean. McLean had become very well known for one little ditty that he sang called American Pie, but he had a bunch of other songs. Some of them were about Vincent van Gogh: Vincent, and Empty Chairs. Although, Empty Chairs also had a lot to do with his recent divorce, too.
Lori was excited to hear McLean. She had heard enough of his music to know that she would probably like his concert. Nothing had prepared her for her visceral reaction to Empty Chairs. She had just gone through a bad breakup, and she felt that he was singing about her life. She felt that he’d been reading her diary and letters. He was singing about her life, and it was killing her. She scribbled some notes while he was singing and showed them to her friend who had gone to the concert with her.
Lori was an aspiring singer/songwriter. She had met the songwriting/producing duo of Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. They were helping to establish her as an artist however, they also were keeping her dependent on them. Norman Gimbel was particularly focused on her, starting an affair with her in spite of the 24-year age gap, and the fact that he was already married.
Notes in hand, Lori called Norman and told him about the song and her reaction to it. She read off to him her notes and the burgeoning lyrics that she had written. Norman and Charles went to work and the end result was the song Killing Me, Softly. Lori recorded it and the song promptly went – nowhere.
The following year, Roberta Flack heard the song. She recorded Killing Me Softly, and the song went to number one on the Hot 100 Chart.
By 1976, Lori ended her relationship with Norman Gimbel. She felt that he was being controlling and abusive. She asked to be released from her contract as well. Most of the time, this would not have been an issue. Artists are released from contracts all the time when they are not making much money. But not this time. Fox and Gimbel bled her dry.
As for Don McLean, when he was told that his song had been the inspiration for Killing Me Softly, he was pleased and honored. Most artists would be happy that their work had made such an impact on another human being.
In public, Fox and Gimbel were still giving Lori partial credit for having come up with the idea and written most of the lyrics to Killing Me Softly. This all changed by 2008. Gimbel had his lawyers contact Don McLean and demanded that they remove all reference to Lori basing Killing Me Softly on his website. They were erasing Lori from this song completely. But this was not successful, for McLean’s lawyers sent back a copy of an article from 1973 where Gimbel had himself told the story of Lori’s involvement.
Why would they do that?
This is Women’s History Month. I learned the other day about Rosalind Franklin, who was instrumental to the discovery of DNA. But she was shut out from receiving credit for her work by James Watson and Maurice Wilkins and the very famous Francis Crick. Or there is Jocelyn Bell Burnell who in 1943 discovered pulsars. However, the Noble Prize went to Anthony Hewish who was her supervisor at Cambridge University. There is a long, long list of women who were not given credit for their groundbreaking work in science.
Is this as egregious? I doubt it. But I do think that this is part of a recurring theme of men overlooking the value of women and the work that we do.
Let me know what you think. And while you do that, I will be playing Killing Me Softly this week on my Minnich Music FaceBook page this week, so be sure to check them out.
Until next time!