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Women Music March #15 — Nina Simone

I’ve heard a few songs by Nina Simone but know very little about her. I do know that the songs I’ve heard have all been political anthems. This one is no exception. Please check out the bonus video after the lyrics to Four Women.

Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), known professionally as Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.

The sixth of eight children born to 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 prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she was denied admission despite a well-received audition, which she attributed to racial discrimination. 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 musical style fused gospel and pop with classical music, in particular Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.

Musicians who have cited Simone as important for their own musical upbringing include Elton John (who named one of his pianos after her), Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Adele, David Bowie, Boy George, Emeli Sandé, Antony and the Johnsons, Dianne Reeves, Sade, Janis Joplin, Nick Cave, Van Morrison, Christina Aguilera, Elkie Brooks, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Kanye West, Lena Horne, Bono, John Legend, Elizabeth Fraser, Cat Stevens, Anna Calvi, Cat Power, Lykke Li, Peter Gabriel, Justin Hayward, Maynard James Keenan, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia Barrino, Michael Gira, Angela McCluskey, Lauryn Hill, Patrice Babatunde, Alicia Keys, Alex Turner, Lana Del Rey, Hozier, Matt Bellamy, Ian MacKaye, Kerry Brothers, Jr., Krucial, Amanda Palmer, Steve Adey and Jeff Buckley. John Lennon cited Simone’s version of “I Put a Spell on You” as a source of inspiration for the Beatles’ song “Michelle.” American singer Meshell Ndegeocello released her own tribute album Pour une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone in 2012. In late 2019, American rapper Wale released an album titled “Wow… That’s Crazy” containing a track called “Love Me Nina/Semiautomatic” which contains audio clips from Simone. The clips outline the message of the song, as Simone was an active activist in her lifetime.

Wild Is the Wind is jazz singer-songwriter and pianist Nina Simone’s sixth album for Philips Records, released in 1966. The album was compiled from several recordings that were left over from sessions (in 1964 and 1965) for previous Philips albums.

Four Women” tells the story of four different African American women. Each of the four characters represents an African-American stereotype in society. Thulani Davis of The Village Voice called the song “an instantly accessible analysis of the damning legacy of slavery, that made iconographic the real women we knew and would become.

 

 

 

My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah

My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SAFFRONIA
My name is Saffronia

My skin is tan
My hair is fine
My hips invite you
my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing

My skin is brown
my manner is tough
I’ll kill the first mother I see
my life has been too rough
I’m awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My name is PEACHES
Songwriters: Nina Simone

Bonus video:  includes Nina’s only daughter, Lisa, Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright, and Angélique Kidjo.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Women Music March #15 — Nina Simone

  1. I wrote about the song Summertime which she sang, but it was also done by Janis Joplin and I really didn’t know all that much about her, so thanks for writing this Li. I did read that she made bad choices in her men and that she became hooked on drugs. This song is really nice.

    Liked by 1 person

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