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Reminisce With M.I.S.S: Nina Simone

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

It’s safe to say that the staff at M.I.S.S are fans of the fabulous Nina Simone. She embodies the spirit of what this publication represents. An eclectic array of talents, cultural activism, passion, and perseverance. In fact when I asked M.I.S.S Lexx (a huge fan) she told me that

In the 1960’s, no black woman performing artist was more gangsta than Nina Simone. She wrote about stuff that even a man would be a little reluctant to talk about. She said things about white-people that limited her time on TV & Radio but she was always true to herself, her emotions and her passion.

A bit of background on Simone, she was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in North Carolina, she was one of eight children in a poor family in 1933. She began to play the piano at age three. Her mother was a strict Methodist preacher who also worked as a maid. Her father worked as a handyman. Upon her mother’s employer hearing the young child’s talents they decided to fund her piano lessons. Simone’s continuing education was locally funded by the community due to the interest in her promising talent. At the age of 17 she moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she encountered blatant racism while applying for a scholarship at a local college. After she passed her test admirably yet didn’t receive the scholarship the examiner told her it was “because you are black,” the rejection thus fueled her enthusiasm for the Civil Rights Movement that was about to erupt in the United States.
Reminisce With M.I.S.S: Nina Simone
As any strong and willful woman would do, Simone decided to use her talents to teach others while funding her studies as a classical pianist at New York City’s highly regarded institution, Juilliard School of Music. Even though her talent was obvious to those around her when she applied once again in Philadelphia at The Curtis Institute she was rejected to which she attributed to her being black and a woman. Random fact: Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, and crew were frowned upon and made to stay in separate rooms designated for men and women while staying at The Barclay, a hotel located adjacent to The Curtis Institute. So much for being the place that The Constitution and Bill of Rights was written and signed!

In order to further fund herself she performed in Atlantic City under the name, Nina Simone. Here she built a small but loyal fan base with her mixture of jazz, blues, and classical piano. Nina was brilliant, but her brilliance was a troubled one. She struggled with bipolar disorder and her music was driven by passion, emotion, and anger. On stage she could be exuberant and suddenly enter a melancholy state and her voice would even go to baritone lows. Her first “protest” song was “Mississippi Goddamn,” a response to the four little girls being burned in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Her ex-husband said in an interview that she was very upset, “pounding away at her piano for two hours,” a song was born. Simone was and is regarded as the “High Priestess of Soul” because of the attention she commanded when she was on stage. In one night she would give you singing, dancing, monologue, and has been noted for using silence as a musical element. Her performances were not just concerts, but happenings, very much a representation of the Pop movement going on in New York.

High Priestess of Soul

High Priestess of Soul

Today many artists attribute Nina Simone as a music, cultural, and style icon. Traces of her jazz/R&B/funk/soul influence can be found in the works of Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, and Cat Power, among many others. Many have sampled her, and even acts like David Bowie and Marilyn Manson have covered her songs. There are so many independent and socially conscious female performers around today; think Erykah Badu, M.I.A., Santigold, and Jill Scott whom have Nina Simone to credit for setting a high standard of being culturally aware and delivering a performance with lasting impact.

Here are some of our favorite tracks, hope you enjoy!

The track “Funkier Than A Mosquitos Tweeter” is a funky mix of intense tribal sounds and such passion is in her voice. A must listen.

In this video, “Ain’t Got No…I’ve Got A Life,” Nina looks absolutely beautiful with her hair wrapped, giant earrings, and yellow halter dress that compliments her dark skin. Even though she talks about what she doesn’t have, this song addresses appreciating the things you do have, like life and your body, which don’t cost money. The live version comes in clear and the sound is great the combination of the drumming and piano are amazing.

“My Baby Just Cares For Me” a sweet personal favorite.

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5 Responses to “Reminisce With M.I.S.S: Nina Simone”

  1. Hey Jenessa! Great post!
    Nina’s music just speaks to the very depth of your soul. My mom and aunts used to play her music at family gatherings when I was little and it’s always stuck with me. Ne Me Quite Te Pas is my favorite song though I have no idea what it means… it’s just so beautiful!

  2. Valerie Valerie says:

    Nina’s music is so soulful and beautiful. I really admire her as an artist and a person as well. I love that she took chances and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Great write up Jenessa!

  3. Gee Gee says:

    Jenessa, this is such an great article! Really informative in terms of learning about her activist past. She is truly one of the most soulful and effective artists– if you listen to her cover of “Strange Fruit”, she blows the original out of the water! So influential, so amazing, glad we covered her!

  4. Alexia says:

    I just worship Nina! It’s hard to say what my fave song is, I guess every single one except for the ones that she clearly was forced to sing with little of her own style (like I loves you Porgy and that genre). It’s so true that when you hear Nina’s version of Strange Fruit, you can’t help but ask Billie who?

    Ne me quittes pas is a beautiful song, I speak French so I can understand the lyrics. It is a desperate song, one of obsession almost (similar in lyrical content to “every breath you take”). For example “I want to be the shadow of your shadow, the shadow of your hand, the shadow of your dog”. Now in english that sounds terrible, but in French, “L’ombre de ton ombre, l’ombre de ta main, l’ombre de ton chien” it all rhymes and sounds lovelorn in that blues way.

    I can’t hardly listen to Wild is the Wind when she sings it. “Love me love me love me love say you do… let me fly away with you…” “let the wind blow through your heart”… ” “you’re spring to me all things to me… hmmmm don’t you know you’re life itself?”. I don’t know it’s just completely emotionally overwhelming. And then of course on top of all that the brilliance of her hands which are simply brilliant in their own right.

    They say Alicia Keys is the Nina of our generation. I dunno. She’s good but Nina was great.

  5. Jenessa Jenessa says:

    Thank you for the beautiful words Alexia. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I most certainly enjoyed putting it together for our readers. As you said in your comment, Billie who? I feel the same with Alicia. Who?

    Nina stands in a class all her own.


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