Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), known professionally as Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist. Her music spanned styles including classical, folk, gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, and pop.
The sixth of eight children born from a poor family in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone initially aspired to be a concert pianist. With the help of a few supporters in her hometown, she enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. She then applied for a scholarship to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where, despite a well received audition, she was denied admission, which she attributed to racism. In 2003, just days before her death, the Institute awarded her an honorary degree.
To make a living, Simone started playing piano at a nightclub in Atlantic City. She changed her name to “Nina Simone” to disguise herself from family members, having chosen to play “the devil’s music” or so-called “cocktail piano”. She was told in the nightclub that she would have to sing to her own accompaniment, which effectively launched her career as a jazz vocalist. She went on to record more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974, making her debut with Little Girl Blue. She had a hit single in the United States in 1958 with “I Loves You, Porgy”. Her piano playing was strongly influenced by baroque and classical music, especially Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.
In 1993, Simone settled near Aix-en-Provence in southern France (Bouches-du-Rhône). In the same year, her final album, A Single Woman, was released. She variously contended that she married or had a love affair with a Tunisian around this time, but that their relationship ended because, “His family didn’t want him to move to France, and France didn’t want him because he’s a North African.” During a 1998 performance in Newark, she announced, “If you’re going to come see me again, you’ve got to come to France, because I am not coming back.” She suffered from breast cancer for several years before she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet (Bouches-du-Rhône), on April 21, 2003. Her Catholic funeral service at the local parish was attended by singers Miriam Makeba and Patti LaBelle, poet Sonia Sanchez, actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, and hundreds of others. Simone’s ashes were scattered in several African countries. Her daughter Lisa Celeste Stroud is an actress and singer who took the stage name Simone, and who has appeared on Broadway in Aida.
Simone’s consciousness on the racial and social discourse was prompted by her friendship with the playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Simone stated that during her conversations with Hansberry “we never talked about men or clothes. It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution – real girls’ talk”. The influence of Hansberry planted the seed for the provocative social commentary that became an expectation in Simone’s repertoire. One of Nina’s more hopeful activism anthems, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, was written with collaborator Weldon Irvine in the years following the playwright’s passing, acquiring the title of one of Hansberry’s unpublished plays. Simone’s social circles included notable black activists such as James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael and Langston Hughes: the lyrics of her song “Backlash Blues” were written by Hughes.
Simone’s social commentary was not limited to the civil rights movement; the song “Four Women” exposed the Eurocentric appearance standards imposed on Black women in America, as it explored the internalized dilemma of beauty that is experienced between four Black women with skin tones ranging from light to dark. She explains in her autobiography I Put a Spell on You that the purpose of the song was to inspire Black women to define beauty and identity for themselves without the influence of societal impositions. Chardine Taylor-Stone has noted that, beyond the politics of beauty, the song also describes the stereotypical roles that many Black women have historically been restricted to: the mammy, the tragic mulatto, the sex worker, and the angry Black woman. (wikipedia)
“The High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone was a singer, pianist, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Mostly known as a jazz singer, her music blended gospel, blues, folk, pop, and classical styles. No popular singer was more closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement than Simone.
Simone was billed as a jazz vocalist, but she often rejected the label, viewing it as a reflection of her race more than her musical style and training. She self-identified as a folk singer, with a style that also incorporated blues, gospel, and pop, among others. She was able to cross genres as both a singer and pianist, and her classical background remained an important part of her musical identity.
She released the iconic protest song “Mississippi Goddam” in 1964, in reaction to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, both in 1963. The song expressed her frustration with the slow pace of change in response to the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. She famously performed “Mississippi Goddam” at a concert on April 7, 1968, three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Simone continued to speak out forcefully about the African American freedom struggle and became associated with the Black Nationalism and Black Power movements. Her albums covered a wide range of styles and included both politically motivated songs and reimaginations of popular songs. “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” (1969) aimed to make African American children feel good about themselves and “Four Women” (1966) expressed the suffering and resilience of African American women. At the same time, her covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, George Harrison, and the Bee Gees earned acclaim.
In the 1970s, as public attention toward the Civil Rights Movement declined, Simone’s music faded in popularity. She left the United States, eventually settling in France. Simone attributed her move abroad to what she saw as the worsening racial situation in the US. She continued to release new albums and draw fans to her concert tours, but she performed less as the years went on.
Scholars have often overlooked Simone’s legacy because her music crossed genres and could not easily be categorized, but she left a profound mark on American music. Singers such as Aretha Franklin, Rufus Wainright, and Roberta Flack cite her as an important influence. In 2008, Rolling Stone named Simone to its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and, in 2018, Simone was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.(She passed away in 2003 at the age of 70.) (Mariana Brandman, womenshistory.org)
In 1988 Nina Simone gave a guest performance at the Hamburg Fabrik, Hamburg/Germany and here is the recording of this fantastic evening.
To remember this unique figure you’ll hear a recently unearthed concert recording made in Hamburg, Germany in 1988 recorded by German radio.
This hour long set captures the essence of why she was a legend and treats the audience to a wide array of songs so synonymous with her.
She covers a range of material from her own compositions to arrangements of standards and blues tunes in this performance at the Fabrick club where she was backed by a fine band.
Here is this memorable concert at the Hamburg Fabrik, recorded by Norddeutscher Rundfunk on 6 May 1988.
Al Schackman on guitar and vibraphone, Tony Jones on double bass and Leopoldo Fleming, percussion, accompany the extraordinary singer and pianist through all the splendour and angry melancholy of her music. On this evening, Nina Simone performs moving original songs such as “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, hits like Walter Donaldson’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and arranged traditionals like “In The Evening by the Moonlight”.
Thanks to unclewolfi for sharing the show at Dime.
Recorded live at Fabrik, Hamburg, Germany; May 6, 1988
Very good digital broadcast
Leopoldo Fleming (drums)
Tony Jones (bass)
Al Schackman (guitar, vibes)
Nina Simone (vocals, piano)
01. In The Evening By The Moonlight (Traditional) 4.37
02. To Be Young, Gifted And Black (Simone/Irving) 5.45
03. Color Is A Beautiful Thing (Simone) 4.45
04. Mississippi Goddamn (Simone) 5.20
05. See-Line Woman (Traditional/Simone) 4.17
06. Announcement 0.31
07. Fodder On Her Wings (Simone) 7.17
08. Announcement 0.51
09. I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl (Williams/Brymn/Small) 4.21
10. Announcement 0.25
11. Do I Move You (Simone) 3.50
12. Sea Lion Woman (Simone) 1.32
13. Backlash Blues (Simone/Hughes) 3.01
14. Announcement 1.19
15. My Baby Just Cares For Me (Kahn/Donaldson) 5.43
16. Consumation (Simone) 4.55
“I’m a real rebel with a cause.”