Nina Simone Inspired Artists Across The Creative And Ethnic Spectrum

The mercurial, talented, and fiery soul/blues singer Nina Simone put her mark on American entertainment for 50 years.  Shes now getting her posthumous props, joining Bon Jovi, the Moody Blues and Dire Straits as this years inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Nina Simone – I put a spell on you

Jazz*Street / Nina Simone – I put a spell on you

 Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina. Her singing style was so soulful and versatile that she was able to successfully pour her gifts into numerous genres, inclusing classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop music. Simone received tutelage at the esteemed Julliard School of Music in New York City thanks to donations from a few supporters in her hometown.

She would apply for a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but was denied. She would later recount how she believed her rejection was racially motivated.

But, as the saying goes, one monkey dont stop no show! So, Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone, and she began performing in Atlantic City, playing piano at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue.  “Nina” was derived was from Nia, a nickname given to her by a boyfriend, and “Simone” was taken from the French actress Simone Signoret, who she had seen in the 1952 movie Casque d’Or.

Ain’t Got No, I Got Life – Nina Simone

Nina Simone playing live in London, 1968. DrMandinga

First, Simone simply played the piano but was eventually asked to sing.  The rest was a matter of historic record.

Simone’s most prolific creative period was between 1958 and 1974, with her first in the United States being I Loves You, Porgy in 1958. It would be the only Billboard top 20 hit of her lengthy career.  She recorded an astounding 40 albums in that span.

Nina Simone – I Loves You Porgy Live 9/11/1960

I don’t own this! Property of the estate of Nina Simone. It was deleted from YouTube for some reason but it was my absolute favourite Nina performance ever.

She changed distributors, which also signaled a change in her content.  Simone had always included excerpts of the African American struggle into her work, but on her album Nina Simone in Concert, from a live recording in 1964, she would directly address racial equality head on with the release of Mississippi Goddam in response to the murder of activist Medgar Evers in September of 63. She also addressed the Birmingham bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in which four little girls were killed.   

She would later recount that the song was meant to throw 10 bullets back at them, referring to southern racists and their enablers.  The same album included Old Jim Crow.

Each of her subsequent works would be heavily soaked in civil rights and race relations.

Nina Simone – Old Jim Crow

Uploaded by Stefano Tamagni on 2013-02-24.

At RCA Victor, Simone recorded Backlash Blues, written by Harlem Renaissance leader and close friend Langston Hughes on Nina Sings the Blues.  On April 7, 1968, her Nuff Said! album was based on live recordings from her set at the Westbury Music Fair.  Later, with the assistance of Weldon Irvine, Simone would rewrite scribe Lorraine Hansberrys unfinished play into Young, Gifted and Black, one of the most positive, uplifting songs for black youth ever recorded.

With dozens of live, compilation, studio albums and singles to her name, Simone has been named as a key inspiration from music artists across the creative and ethnic spectrum.  Though not as commercially successful as some, her admirers and contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway were among many who re-recorded her works.

Nina Simone Sings “Young, Gifted, and Black” on Sesame Street

Did you know Nina Simone sang her iconic song “Young, Gifted, and Black” on Sesame Street? It happened, February 18, 1972! To donate:

Best known for such hits as Mississippi Goddamn and Young, Gifted and Black, Simone’s earlier mainstream accolades would decrease significantly when she became active in the civil rights struggles of the ’60s.

Simone would perform and speak at civil rights gatherings such as the Montgomery March. However, unlike Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she was a proponent of Blacks forging an independent state via armed revolt.  She would later write in her autobiography that she truly believed in the equality of all races.

In 1993, Simone would leave the United States to live in France. She died in 2003 after several years of suffering from breast cancer at 70 years old. 

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