This is a testament to what inclusion in a movie can do for a song. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was written back in 1957 by Ewan MacColl as a love song to his future wife, Peggy Seeger. It was a folk song. It was fast and, contrary to Mr. MacColl’s protests to the contrary, forgettable.
Roberta Flack recorded a fresh version, slowing it down and making it much more sensual. She has a beautiful voice, and she took the song to a different level. Even so, she included it on a 1969 album, and nothing ever came of it. Then Clint Eastwood (Great American Things, July 13, 2009) included it in his directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, and Flack released it as a single in 1972. It sent straight to number one, and stayed there for six weeks.
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was Flack’s first hit, following a pair of solo albums that had a difficult time finding an audience. She would later have two more solo number one hits, and two top five songs with Donny Hathaway. “The First Time” won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1973.