COMPLETE INTERVIEW with Spanish caption. “There’s no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were.” –Nina Simone
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Honoring Legendary Nina Simone
February 21, 1933 — April 21, 2003
After 20 years of performing, she became involved in the civil rights movement and the direction of her life shifted once again. Simone’s music was highly influential in the fight for equal rights in the US.
In 1964, she changed record distributors, from the American Colpix to the Dutch Philips, which also meant a change in the contents of her recordings. Simone had always included songs in her repertoire that drew upon her Black American origins (such as “Brown Baby” and “Zungo” on Nina at the Village Gate in 1962).
On her debut album for Philips, Nina Simone In Concert (live recording, 1964), Simone for the first time openly addressed the racial inequality that was prevalent in the United States with the song “Mississippi Goddam”, her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four children of African descent.
The song was released as a single, and was boycotted in certain southern states.”Old Jim Crow”, on the same album, addressed the shameful Jim Crow Laws.
From then on, a civil rights message was standard in Simone’s recording repertoire, becoming a part of her live performances. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, such as at the Selma to Montgomery marches.
Simone advocated violent revolution during the civil rights period, rather than Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach,and she hoped that Black Americans could, by armed combat, form a separate state. Nevertheless, she wrote in her autobiography that she and her family regarded all races as equal.
Simone moved from Philips to RCA Victor during 1967. She sang “Backlash Blues”, written by her friend Langston Hughes on her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings The Blues (1967). On Silk & Soul (1967), she recorded Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “Turning Point”. The album Nuff Said (1968) contains live recordings from the Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968, three days after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. She dedicated the whole performance to him and sang “Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)”, a song written by her bass player, Gene Taylor, directly after the news of King’s death had reached them. In the summer of 1969 she performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park.
Together with Weldon Irvine, Simone turned the late Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished play To Be Young, Gifted, and Black into a civil rights song. Hansberry had been a personal friend whom Simone credited with cultivating her social and political consciousness. She performed the song live on the album Black Gold (1970).
In 1993, Simone settled near Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. She had suffered from breast cancer for several years before she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône on April 21, 2003. Simone’s ashes were scattered in several African countries. She left behind a daughter, Lisa Celeste Stroud, an actress and singer, who took the stage name Simone.
Musicians who have cited Simone as important for their own musical upbringing include Van Morrison, Bono, Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Lauryn Hill and Jeff Buckley to name a few. Musicians who have covered her work (or her specific renditions of songs) include Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, John Lennon and Jeff Buckley.
Simone received two honorary degrees in music and humanities, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College. She preferred to be called “Dr. Nina Simone” after these honors were bestowed upon her. Only two days before her death, Simone was awarded an honorary degree by the Curtis Institute, the music school that had refused to admit her as a student at the beginning of her career. Simone was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2010, Tryon, North Carolina erected a statue in her honor along Trade Street.
“Slavery has never been abolished from America’s way of thinking.” –Nina Simone
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