Even though I’ve never heard her perform, I have a great deal of respect for Nina Simone, a woman who lived her
convictions and didn’t seem to give a hoot what anyone thought. I admired her strength, her courage, her activism. Mostly, though, I loved her music.
Mississippi Goddam, to me, is all Nina. I believe it sums her up as the civil rights activist she was. She was also a singer songwriter, pianist and arranger.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, she adopted the name Nina Simone in 1954 so that her mother, a strict Methodist minister, wouldn’t know she was singing “devil music.”
Simone recorded several albums. Her 1972 single, To be Young, Gifted and Black, became my personal anthem. She has influenced musicians from Mos Def to Cat Stevens. Her music has been covered by artists from Aretha Franklin to David Bowie and Janis Joplin.
Simone lived in Barbados, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Liberia before settling in France in 1992, remaining there until her death in 2003.
I never got to see her perform but her voice, her energy, are unmatched. The day of her memorial service, I started to get dressed to go but got sidetracked by something that now is insignificant and unmemorable.
A movie based on Simone’s life, starring Mary J. Blige, is scheduled to be released in 2012.
Here’s her version of Ne Me Quitte Pas (in English, If You Go Away.)
Nina gives a shout-out to Jacques Brel. Here’s his version.