Of Jewish background, Lieberman, the middle sibling of three sisters, spent her childhood and adolescence travelling between California and Switzerland consequent to her father's career in chemical engineering. She attended Pine Manor College in her later years of childhood. Though she has acknowledged the positive aspects of having an international upbringing, it is the drawbacks - a sense of alienation and not fitting in - that subsequently became a recurring motif on her albums, first apparent in "House Full of Women" (from Becoming) and "Straw Colored Girl" (from Straw Colored Girl) and most recently on the title track of her eleventh album, Bend Like Steel.
Lieberman began singing and composing at a young age, simultaneously acquiring a taste for French singers and songwriters as well as American rock and pop music. The latter passion was fed by an older sister who would return from trips to the U.S. with albums by Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen and Jefferson Airplane.
Shortly after she returned to America to study in her late teens, Lieberman was signed to a production, recording and publishing deal struck between Capitol Records and songwriters Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel. Lieberman's contributions to the process were occasionally credited during this period of her career, most notably on "My Lover Do You Know" which appeared on her first album, 1972's Lori Lieberman, and which was singled out for praise by Billboard magazine.
In the gap between her first and second albums, "Killing Me Softly With His Song", a track from Lieberman's debut, was recorded by Roberta Flack - becoming a US #1 and international hit and rapidly overshadowing Lieberman's own, more understated original which had until that point been gaining traction on radio. Undeterred, Lieberman returned in 1973 with Becoming, her first album to achieve a placing on the Billboard Top 200.
Two more Lori Lieberman albums, A Piece of Time (1974) and Straw Colored Girl (1975), appeared on Capitol Records and secured her followings both in America and continental Europe that were to prove remarkably durable upon her re-emergence two decades later. In the wake of her departure from Capitol Records, material from her first four albums was compiled on the European release, The Best of Lori Lieberman.
After a period of silence, and with her career no longer helmed by Gimbel and Fox, Lieberman returned with Letting Go (Millennium Records, 1978, distributed by Casablanca Records/RCA Records), recorded in New York with producer Paul Leka. Lieberman's compositions were fully credited on the album, which served to reveal her distinctly elegiac song-writing style. Prophetically, one song, "Jingle", hinted at Lieberman's growing dissatisfaction with the music industry. Soon after the release of Letting Go, following a particularly disheartening encounter with a music publisher, Lieberman decided to abandon her career. Prior to leaving the industry entirely, she sang on the ABC Schoolhouse Rock series, performing "The Great American Melting Pot", and also wrote and recorded songs for the MGM/NBC series Fame in the early 1980s.
By the early nineties, Lieberman was a mother of three who had settled in California and built a life out of the spotlight. When a neighbour, Joseph Cali (who had played Joey in Saturday Night Fever and was to become Lieberman's third husband) prompted her to return to music, she was initially reluctant but put aside these misgivings and recorded the album A Thousand Dreams which was largely made up of her own songs, appearing on the independent Pope Records label, and engineered by Mark Levinson. The album and its follow-up, 1996's Home of Whispers, were recorded live and marketed towards the audiophile community. A third release, Gone Is The Girl, a studio album with overdubs, came out in 1998 prior to the demise of the Pope label. This collection combined new Lieberman songs with some revisited material from her past. In 2003, Lieberman released another album of original material, Monterey, which came out via her own company, Drive On Records.
From 2009 onwards, Lieberman enjoyed increased visibility. Following the release of Gun Metal Sky (Drive On Records) in 2009, she became a major label recording artist for the first time since the 1970s when V2 Records (originally a subsidiary of Virgin Records and now part of the Universal Music Group) took up the option of remastering, repackaging and distributing Gun Metal Sky in territories outside America. For its European incarnation, the revised album appeared in 2010 under the new title Takes Courage. With funding and promotional support behind her, Lieberman started to tour Europe, drawing audiences sufficient in number to fill concert halls. 2011's swiftly released follow-up Bend Like Steel (Drive On/V2) consolidated her new-found success and led to her first forays into promotional videos. In 2012, Lieberman's most overtly political single, "Rise", a response to the global economic crisis and the inequitable division of wealth, was released worldwide with an accompanying video. "Rise" was included on Lieberman's 2013 album, Bricks Against The Glass (Drive On/Rough Trade Benelux).
In recent years, as Lieberman's profile has grown, Gimbel and Fox have publicly denied the original working method they were reported to have established with Lieberman at the outset of her career, namely that Lieberman's own writing was the essential material from which their songs grew. This dispute has specifically focused on "Killing Me Softly With His Song", which had hitherto been said to have sprung from a poem written by Lieberman following her attendance at a Don McLean concert. Both Gimbel and Fox asserted in print that Lieberman had had no involvement in the creation of the song. As news of the dispute started to proliferate on the internet, Lieberman's own passionately defended testimony began to be referred to as a 'story' and a 'version of events'. Don McLean supported Lieberman both on his website and from the stage of a concert he invited her to attend in 2010. However, the matter only reached an unequivocal conclusion when contemporaneous articles from the early 1970s were exhumed, all of them vindicating Lieberman. On April 5, 1973, Norman Gimbel had informed The Daily News, "She [Lori Lieberman] told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean...I had a notion this might make a good song so the three of us discussed it. We talked it over several times, just as we did for the rest of the numbers we wrote for this album and we all felt it had possibilities".
In the aftermath of the controversy, Lieberman felt compelled to express herself in a new, more assertive fashion, which was most conspicuous on "Cup of Girl" (from Bend Like Steel) a song that deals explicitly with her tenure at Capitol Records with Norman Gimbel, her boyfriend at the time.Lori Lieberman (Capitol Records, 1972)
Becoming (Capitol Records, 1973) US #192
A Piece of Time (Capitol Records, 1974)
Straw Colored Girl (Capitol Records, Bovema, EMI, 1975)
The Best Of Lori Lieberman (Capitol Records, Bovema, EMI, 1976)
Letting Go (Millennium Records, Casablanca Records RCA Records, 1978)
A Thousand Dreams (Pope Music, 1995)
Home of Whispers (Pope Music, 1996)
Gone is the Girl (Pope Music, 1998)
Monterey (Drive On Records, 2003)
Gun Metal Sky (Drive On Records, 2009)
Takes Courage (V2 Records, 2010)
Bend Like Steel (Drive On Records/V2 Records, 2011)
Bricks Against The Glass (Drive On Records/Rough Trade Benelux, 2013)