Nina Simone was fastidiously focused, insouciantly exploratory and ferociously inventive. She can be called as a musician, political activist, philosopher, pianist, arranger, historian, archivist or whatever she may be, but she always settle on the idea of music as the power of freedom, power of choice and the power of the people. Nina, who was born, Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933 was a powerful voice in the progression of Jazz music worldwide. Her broad range of musical style touches the many aspects of blues, R&B, Folk, Gospel and Pop.
She recorded more than forty albums, from her debut “Little Girl Blue” which was released in 1958 up to 1993 when she released “A Single Woman” as part of the contractual obligation with one of America’s major recording company, Elektra. But her career began as a Jazz musician in Atlantic City, where she changed her name to Nina Simone to disguise her from family members who kept claiming that she was playing the ‘devil’s music’. Her first single came in 1958 with “I Loves You, Porgy”.
Her music was heavily influenced by classical musicians such as Bach, and her contralto voice helped cemented her career in freestyle-jazz odysseys. Her 1962 album “Nina at the Village Gate” was the earliest proof of her tribute to her African origins by singing tracks such as “Brown Baby” by Zungo and Michael Olatunji. And during her opening remarks for her concert in 1964, recorded for Philips, she openly addressed the racial inequality in the United States through her track “Mississippi Goddam” which is a response of a racially motivated killing and bombing in the States at the time.
The track saw the beginning of ‘civil rights song’ written by her in defence of her race during the mid 60s racial inequality riots in the States. During that time she became more open to condone violent revolution during the civil rights period in contrast to what Martin Luther King has been approaching as non-violent revolution. Her songs became fuel for many of African-American during that era.
In 1967, she started her venture to the area of blues music, something she always been familiar but never focused on. She sang “Backlash Blues” which was written by Langston Hughes who was her friend in the civil rights movement. And in 1968 she also performed for the Westbury Music Fair on April 7, three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior. She dedicated her whole performance for him and sang, for the first time, “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead) written shortly after the sad news reached her and her bandmates.
Althought Simone kept on recording until 1993, but many people regarded her album “It Is Finished” in 1974. During the hey-days of new wave music in the 80s, Simone kept a low-profile performing in jazz clubs throughout the world, with live recording sessions of her performance during this decade, was widely available to the general public.
In 1993, Simone returned to the studio to record her true last record “A Single Woman”, the album was seen as a reflection of solitude and pain during her career and growing up as an African-American woman and her relationship with her ex-husband. The album, although critically praised by critics, did not performed well on charts.
Nina Simone passed away in her home in France in 2003. Since her death her iconicity has grown spreading to the world of hip hop. She forged our awakening through her lyrics about human rights and her deep voice that sang not only about the repressive government of United States during the mid 60s but also on more personal notes, her love relationship and her perception of music.
” Her voice is the voice of the black woman, the voice of the black woman’s struggle. It’s the voice of the black woman standing up for the black man. It’s the female civil rights voice. She was one of the most pioneering woman with regard to the feminist movement, and she didn’t even try. She just was honest and truthful” – Maxwell –
Text : gs