“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack

In “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, Roberta Flack recounts the following special firsts in her romantic relationship with the addressee:

  • “the first time [she] ever saw his face”
  • ‘the first time she ever kissed his mouth”
  • ‘the first time they ever laid together’

And she remembers all three experiences in a lofty, poetic sort of way which reveals that they were amongst the memorable and pleasurable moments of her life. And of course such a disposition is buttressed by the fact that she and the addressee are still together in a romantic capacity. 

Indeed the implication would be that they are soulmates. So accordingly, what the vocalist is basically doing throughout is celebrating the moments the two of them got together.

And just to note, this song was in fact written from one lover to another, with said individuals eventually going on to get married. Moreover, the strong sense of sentimentality contained therein may have been influenced by the fact that at the time the two of them were basically having an affair. 

In other words, when Ewan MacColl wrote this song for Peggy Seeger, he was perhaps overtaken by a powerful longing for her since at the time he was married to someone else. Or, that’s basically our way of saying that the lyrics of this piece are quite compelling, even for a love song.

Lyrics to “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

Facts about “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

This song was written by a Scottish folk singer by the name of Ewan MacColl (1915-1989). He wrote it specifically for another vocalist, an American by the name of Peggy Seeger who, as noted earlier, he married later down the line (in 1977). And it was also she who originally laid the song down in 1957.

A number of big name artists went on to cover it also, especially around the time it first came out. Interesting to note is that MacColl wasn’t fond of a single one of these renditions. And apparently he held a particular disdain for a version of the song dropped by Elvis Presley (1935-1977).

Roberta Flack’s Rendition

However, we find it hard to imagine that he truly felt the same about the way Roberta Flack spun the tune. Why? Since her take on the song was both a commercial and critical success. Roberta’s version resulted in the only Grammy Award Ewan MacColl ever won. And such transpired in 1973 (the 15th Annual Grammy Awards), in the category of Song of the Year

However, according to a relative of MacColl’s, he did in fact ‘hate all of them’. And even Peggy Seeger, whom the tune was actually written for, reportedly admitted that she personally wasn’t too fond of Flack’s performance, albeit being appreciative of its commercial success.

Roberta Flack’s version also resulted in a Grammy being awarded in 1973 to the producer of the track, Joel Dorn (1942-2007), in the category of Record of the Year. It was also Dorn who produced another of Flack’s hits, “Killing Me Softly with His Song”, which earned him another Record of the Year Grammy in 1974.

Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

More Facts about Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

Roberta Flack’s rendition officially came out as a single via Atlantic Records on 7 March 1972. Up until that point she had been professionally active for about three years. And whereas we now recognize Roberta as sort of a music legend, “The First Time I Saw Your Face” was actually her breakthrough hit. 

Her cover topped the Billboard Hot 100 (holding down the top spot for 6 weeks). Furthermore, it also marked the first time Flack even got anywhere close to accomplishing such a feat.

Her version also reached number one in Canada and broke the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart. And even though other big-name artists have covered it more recently, such as Céline Dion and Leona Lewis, as of the writing of this post it is Roberta’s rendition that remains the most-successful.

Roberta Flack had personally taken a liking to the tune and had been singing it even before going Hollywood, when she was a school/music teacher. As such it is featured on her 1969 debut album, First Take.

So that means the track had already been circulating for a couple of years before blowing up. And what actually caused the song to suddenly become popular was it being featured on a movie entitled Play Misty for Me (1971) which starred Clint Eastwood and was also directed by the actor. In fact it was Eastwood who contacted Roberta Flack personally to obtain permission to use the tune. And whereas, in response, Roberta wanted to re-record it at a faster pace, Clint instructed her not to.

Flack’s version was also used on later movies / TV shows, including the likes of:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016)
Flack discusses “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

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