This was the breakout hit for Roberta Flack; it was #1 in the US for six weeks. Flack had released two solo albums without commercial success, as her blend of jazz and folk styles struggled to find an audience.
Folk singer Ewan MacColl wrote this in 1957 for his lover, Peggy Seeger. She was in a play and phoned him for suggestions on a song for a romantic scene. MacColl wrote this on the spot in less than an hour, playing it over the phone for his wife to use in her play. "We weren't really getting along at the time," Peggy Seeger recalled to Mojo magazine of the romantic epic in a 2015 interview. "After all, he was married to someone else then."
MacColl was married to his second wife, Jean Newlove, at the time. He left her for Peggy Seeger and the pair eventually tied the knot in 1977.
This was used in the 1972 Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty For Me. It gave a great deal of exposure to the mostly unknown Flack.
This won the Grammy awards in 1973 for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, beating out Don McLean's "American Pie" in both categories.
Many artists have covered this, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Mel Torme, Isaac Hayes, and Gordon Lightfoot.
Peggy Seeger recorded her own dance version on Folksploitation, a 2012 album that found the 77-year-old folk-singer collaborating with a DJ/producer operating under the name Broadcaster. "I couldn't sing it for 15 years after Ewan died but now I love to," she told Mojo.
The title is the first words of the lyrics, but that is the only place those words appear.
Roberta Flack admitted to Uncut magazine she had her doubts when Clint Eastwood called her about using the song for Play Misty For Me. She recalled: "I thought it was too slow. He was sure it wasn't. He was right - and I was pleasantly surprised."
Roberta Flack was introduced to "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" when her singer friend Donal Leace played her the folk duo Joe & Eddie's 1963 version. Flack, who was teaching at the time, fell in love with the song and taught it to the young girls in the Glee Club at Washington DC's Banneker Junior High School.
Flack would regularly perform "The First Time" at the Pennsylvania Avenue club Mr. Henry's where she was a resident singer. After signing with Atlantic records, it was one of her first choices when it came to choosing tracks for her debut album. "The tempo and arrangement of the song came as a part of the way I felt the story of the song," she explained to Songwriter Universe. "When you express your feelings about the first time you ever see a great love, you don't rush the story."