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Nina Simone - Artist of the month Feb 2018

Nina Simone lived a life filled with music, controversy and passion. Deeply involved with the American civil rights movement, she worked with poet Langston Hughes, with whom she wrote the song” Backlash Blues” and Dr. Martin Luther King, for whom she composed “Why, the King of Love is Dead” after hearing about Dr. King's assassination.

She left America for good in 1973, saying that racism had made it impossible for her to live a normal life here. She lived the last 30 years of her life in the South of France. Although she occasionally performed in the United States, as she did all over the world, she never again lived in the land of her birth. After her death, at her request, her ashes were scattered across the African Continent.

One might assume that the racism she referred to was that coming from white America to a proud, impossibly brilliant, black, woman artist.

However, the first time Nina Simone appeared on the stage at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, she was booed off the stage by an audience which promptly got up and walked out. The next time Nina Simone played the Apollo, three women came down the center aisle from the back of the auditorium to the front, threw a handful of pennies on the stage, turned around and then walked out.

According to Ted Fox, in his 1995 book, “Showtime at the Apollo”, this critical and demanding audience, famous for its warm acceptance of superior entertainment and immediate and unforgiving dismissal of the mediocre and boring, had made its decision and that was that. In Nina Simone's case, it was felt that she was “elevating” herself at the audience's expense.

After berating the audience for heckling her about the fact that she had not yet done her hit ”Porgy,” Simone said ” I know this is Amateur Night, but the interesting thing is, the amateurs are not backstage. You are the amateurs. I'll sing Porgy if and when I feel like it.”
Despite her composition of over 500 songs, numerous Grammy award nominations, over 50 live and studio recordings, intense involvement in the American civil rights movement, dozens of honorary awards and citations and world-wide reputation as the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone felt that she never received the level of respect her awesome talent and ability deserved.

This may well have been in part due to her imperious, precise and demanding personality, which often made her seem, according to musicians with whom she worked, “difficult”. It was also most certainly due to bipolar disorder, with which she was diagnosed in the 1960's. That information was not released publicly until after her death in 2003.

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina on Feb. 21, 1933, she began playing piano at the age of 4. Such precocious talent was soon recognized by all who heard her and a fund was set up to pay for her music studies at Julliard School of Music, where she spent her senior year of high school.
In 1954, after being denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and as soon as she realized that she could earn better money as a nightclub performer than as a music teacher, she began playing at small clubs in Atlantic City. In order to keep her mother, a Methodist minister, from finding out that she was playing in nightclubs, she changed her name to Nina Simone - Nina from the Spanish for girl and Simone from French actress Simone Signoret.

One of the most expressive singers in history began singing simply because the club owner insisted. Shortly thereafter, she began playing in Greenwich Village clubs to rapt audiences, who adored her intense performances and eclectic choice of material, which ranged from classically influenced themes and traditional songs to current pop tunes, all done in her own fierce style.

She said she never recovered from the hurt and humiliation of being rejected by Curtis. Years later, in a small measure of justice, both Curtis and Julliard awarded her honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degrees, and after that, she preferred to be called Dr. Nina Simone.
In the “too little, too late” department, Dr. Simone will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.

Interestingly, Dr. Simone disliked the term “jazz” and said that the music she played was “African rooted classical music.” She said that Duke Ellington felt the same way.
In 1960, back when Sept. 11 was just another day, Nina Simone made her first appearance on Ed Sullivan's popular weekly television show. She was just coming to national prominence and this appearance on Ed Sullivan's show introduced a wide swath of America, both white and black to the amazing force of nature called Nina Simone.

Don't you wish you could go back in time to witness that historical musical moment?  Well, thanks to the magic of modern technology - you can!
Click on the youtube video included here and see Nina Simone perform “Love Me or Leave Me” on The Ed Sullivan show, September 11, 1960.
You’ll be hearing lots of Nina Simone’s music all month on 90.5, as we celebrate “The High Priestess of Soul.”

 

References:
Fox, T. (2003) Showtime at the Apollo Rhinebeck, NY: Mill Road Enterprises
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nina_Simone

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