Saturday, April 15, 1972

Roberta Flack hit #1 with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Roberta Flack

Writer(s): Ewan MacColl (see lyrics here)

Released: June 20, 1969 as album cut on First Take

First Charted: March 4, 1972

Peak: 16 US, 14 CB, 15 GR< 15 HR, 16 AC, 4 RB, 14 UK, 13 CN, 12 AU, 5 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 4.0 radio, 32.66 video, 88.81 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In 1957, Ewan MacColl, a Scottish political singer/songwriter wrote this folk song for his future wife, Peggy Seeger. According to him, she called him needing a song for a romantic scene in a play. He wrote it in less than an hour. Then he called her and taught it to her over the phone. RC She, however, said he sent her tapes to listen to and this song was one one. WK

The Kingston Trio covered the song for their 1962 album New Frontier. Other versions were recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary; the Brothers Four; Joe & Eddie; the Chad Mitchell Trio; and Gordon Lightfoot. WK Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, Leona Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Mel Torme have also covered the song. According to MacColl’s daughter, Ewan hated all of them, saying they “were travesties, bludgeoning, histrionic, and lacking in grace.” WK

Roberta Flack heard the 1963 Joe & Eddie version when she was teaching at Washington DC’s Banneker Junior High School and taught it the girls in the Glee Club. SF She performed the song, a much slower version than the original, regularly at the Pennsylvania Avenue club Mr. Henry’s. SF When she signed with Atlantic Records, this was one of the songs she chose to record for her 1969 debut album First Take. She recorded two more albums before the song became a hit. Clint Eastwood called her about using the song in a love scene for Clint Eastwood’s movie Play Misty for Me. After people saw the movie and hit the record stores to buy the song, Atlantic Records released the two-year-old song as a single. FB

It took only six weeks to reach #1, where it then spent six weeks. It was the longest chart-topper for a solo female artist since 1956’s “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant. The song won Grammys for Record and Song of the Year.


First posted 3/11/2021; last updated 1/31/2024.

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