April 11 / 16
I first heard of singer, songwriter, composer, and activist Nina Simone in the 1993’s Point of No Return, but I really didn’t get to hear her until recently, when I watched the 2015 documentary film What Happened Miss Simone? which is featured on Netflix. This documentary features interviews from her ex-husband, Andrew Stroud, their daughter Lisa, and others. The documentary goes beyond who Simone really was. That’s when I really began to hear not only her music, but the woman behind it.
Born Eunice Waymon, Simone began playing the piano at very young age. It wasn’t till the early 1950’s that success came to Simone. She was playing at a bar & grill in Atlantic City, this is when she adopted the stage name Nina Simone (niña meaning “little girl” in Spanish, while Simone taken from French actress Simone Signoret). She knew her mother wouldn’t approve of the fact that her daughter was playing the devil’s music (her mother was Methodist minister) so she used this very stage name so she would remain undetected. Simone moved fluently from jazz, blues, r&b, folk, soul and gospel.
Simone recorded the song ‘I Loves You, Porgy’, from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, in 1958, which became her only Billboard Top 20 in the US. Her début album, Little Girl Blue, was released in 1958. Other albums such as Nina Simone and Her Friends, The Amazing Nina Simone, and several others followed. By 1964, Simone’s music took a different and radical turn. She began to open up about the civil rights movement. One song in particular, ‘Mississippi Goddamn’, was her response to the murder of Medgar Evers in 1963 and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham Alabama, which killed four young black girls. The song was boycotted in a few of the southern states. She continued to spread civil rights through her music.
She continued recording in the next few decades on. Her last album, A Single Woman was released in 1993, which focused on pain and solitude and also defining herself as a single woman.
She may had her personal demons, but it didn’t deter her from making great music. Simone has created a legacy of songs, I Loves You, Porgy, Trouble In Mind, to I Put a Spell on You, and Young, Gifted, and Black. She has influenced those such as Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Adele, Beyoncé, even John Lennon, and many others.
Simone had a demanding stage presence, which made you sit up and listen. The lyrics were what grasp your attention the most. It’s no wonder she was called High Priestess of Soul. So today Shadowbox is putting the spotlight on the late Miss Simone. Enjoy Monday, be blessed.
P.S: If you haven’t watched What Happened, Miss Simone? on Netflix please do! I will do a review later on this month.
featured photo: vulture.com