Nina Simone and her music

Mandatory Credit: Photo By STEVE WOOD / Rex USA, courtesy Everett Collection NINA SIMONE NINA SIMONE – 1979 JAZZ MUSICIAN SINGER Courtesy Everett Collection 74624b

As it is widely known, music can be interpreted in a relative and subjective way by the public. And as such, of course, the first contact with this type of music can be nothing else that in an emotional plane from where you cannot overwhelm your argument with subjectivity. Thus, the main reasons why I chose to analyze Nina Simone’s figure are related directly to how her music in entirety has made an impact on me, emotionally speaking.
Her music includes all the necessary elements that would qualify it as an artistic value, for instance, the content of her lyrics, the message that it conveys to the audience, the melodies and music of her songs which all can be translated into nothing less than pure success. Not to forget the special timbre of her voice as well as her stage-performances.

         Another reason that makes her even more of an inspiring woman in my eyes would be her developments as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement; the relations she managed to develop with the political and social life, where with the amount of contribution she gave she became the voice that demanded equality among humans.

Nina Simone; (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon; February 21, 1933 – April 21 2003), was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger. Among her professional skills stands as well her contribution as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Simone employed a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues[1], folk, R&B, gospel2 and pop.

         In 1958, in the United States of America, Simone marked a great success with the song “I Loves You, Porgy”. She was able to record more than 40 albums, mainly between the years 1958 – 1974. Her style was unique and was somewhat fused gospel and pop music with that of classical music, in particular Johann Sebastian Bach. Among all of this, she accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.

Simone was the recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000 for her interpretation of “I Loves You, Porgy”; she also received 15 Grammy Award nominations; Simone received two honorary degrees in music and humanities, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College; in 2002 on of the streets of the city of Nijmegen, Holland was named after her; in 2010 a statue was put up her birthplace, in her honor.

         If we take a look at her childhood we will find interesting biographical data showing Simone’s early talent and the difficulties she has encountered on her way (in art).
Simone was born in North Carolina and was the sixth child of a Christian preacher. She always aspired to be a concert pianist. With the help of a few supporters in her hometown (Tryon, North Carolina), she enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Waymon then applied for a scholarship to study at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she was denied despite a well-received audition. Waymon became fully convinced this rejection had been entirely due to racial discrimination. Years later, two days before her death, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed on her an honorary degree.

To make a living, Eunice Waymon changed her name to “Nina Simone”. The change related to her need to disguise herself from family members, having chosen to play “the devil’s music” or “cocktail piano” at a nightclub in Atlantic City. She was told in the nightclub that she would have to sing to her own accompaniment, and this effectively launched her career as a jazz vocalist. During her career, Simone managed to create a song collection that over the years would turn into a reference point of her repertoire. Some of these songs were written by her, while many other songs were the fruit of the arrangements she achieved with various music studios.
Her first hit song in America was her rendition of George Gershwin‘s “I Loves You, Porgy” (1958).  It peaked at number 18 in the pop singles chart and number 2 on the black singles chart. During that same period Simone recorded “My Baby Just Cares for Me“, which would become her biggest success years later, in 1987, after it was featured in a 1986 Chanel No. 5 perfume commercial. A music video was also created by Aardman Studios.Well known songs from her Philips albums include “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on Broadway-Blues-Ballads (1964), “I Put a Spell on You”, “Ne me quitte pas” (a rendition of a Jacques Brel song) and “Feeling Good” on I Put a Spell On You (1965), “Lilac Wine” and “Wild Is the Wind” on Wild is the Wind (1966).

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “Feeling Good”, and “Sinner Man” (Pastel Blues, 1965) have remained popular in terms of cover versions (most notably a version of the former song by The Animals), sample usage, and its use on soundtracks for various movies, TV-series, and video games. “Sinner Man” has been featured in the TV series ScrubsPerson of InterestThe BlacklistSherlock, and Vinyl, as well as in movies such as The Thomas Crown AffairMiami Vice, and Inland Empire, and sampled by artists such as Talib Kweli and Timbaland. The song “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was sampled by Devo Springsteen on “Misunderstood” from Common’s 2007 album Finding Forever, and by little-known producers Rodnae and Mousa for the song “Don’t Get It” on Lil Wayne‘s 2008 album Tha Carter III. “See-Line Woman” was sampled by Kanye West for “Bad News” on his album 808s & Heartbreak. The 1965 rendition of “Strange Fruit,” originally recorded by Billie Holiday was sampled by Kanye West for “Blood on the Leaves” on his album Yeezus.

Simone’s years at RCA-Victor spawned a number of singles and album tracks that were popular, particularly in Europe. In 1968, it was “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life“, a medley from the musical Hair from the album ‘Nuff Said! (1968) that became a surprise hit for Simone, reaching number 4 on the UK Singles Chart and introducing her to a younger audience. In 2006, it returned to the UK Top 30 in a remixed version by Groovefinder.

The following single, a rendition of the Bee Gees‘ “To Love Somebody“, also reached the UK Top 10 in 1969. “The House of the Rising Sun” was featured on Nina Simone Sings the Blues in 1967, but Simone had recorded the song in 1961 and it was featured on Nina at the Village Gate (1962), predating the versions by Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan. It was later covered by The Animals, for whom it became a signature hit.

Simone’s bearing and stage presence earned her the title “High Priestess of Soul”.She was a piano player, singer and performer, “separately, and simultaneously.” As a composer and arranger, Simone moved from gospel to blues, jazz, and folk, and to numbers with European classical styling. Besides using Bach-style counterpoint, she called upon the particular virtuosity of the 19th-century Romantic piano repertoire—ChopinLisztRachmaninoff, and others. Onstage, she incorporated monologues and dialogues with the audience into the program, and often used silence as a musical element. She compared it to “mass hypnosis. I use it all the time.” Throughout most of her life and recording career she was accompanied by percussionist Leopoldo Fleming and guitarist and musical director Al Schackman.

Simone is regarded as one of the most influential recording artists of the 20th century.[58] According to Rickey Vincent, she was a pioneering musician whose career was characterized by “fits of outrage and improvisational genius”. Pointing to her composition of “Mississippi Goddam“, Vincent said Simone broke the mold, having the courage as “an established black musical entertainer to break from the norms of the industry and produce direct social commentary in her music during the early 1960s”.

In naming Simone the 29th greatest singer of all time, Rolling Stone wrote that “her honey-coated, slightly adenoidal cry was one of the most affecting voices of the civil rights movement”, while making note of her ability to “belt barroom blues, croon cabaret and explore jazz — sometimes all on a single record.” In the opinion of AllMusic‘s Mark Deming, she was “one of the most gifted vocalists of her generation, and also one of the most eclectic”. Creed Taylor, who annotated the liner notes for Simone’s 1978 Baltimore album, said the singer possessed a “magnificent intensity” that “turns everything—even the most simple, mundane phrase or lyric—into a radiant, poetic message”. Music critic Jim Fusilli writes that Simone’s music is still relevant today: “it didn’t adhere to ephemeral trends, it isn’t a relic of a bygone era; her vocal delivery and technical skills as a pianist still dazzle; and her emotional performances have a visceral impact.

By contrast, Robert Christgau argued that Simone’s “penchant for the mundane renders her intensity as bogus as her mannered melismas and pronunciation (move over, Inspector Clouseau) and the rote flatting of her vocal improvisations.” Regarding her piano playing, he dismissed Simone as a “middlebrow keyboard tickler … whose histrionic rolls insert unconvincing emotion into a song”.

Bibliography, 07.06.2017, 21:38, 12.06.2017, 14:30, 12.06.2017, 09:22, 4.06.2017, 11:58



Nina Simone & Me with Laura Mvula BBC, Documentary 2016

Nina Simone – The Legend

What happened Miss Simone?


BBC Hard Talk, 1999

Nina Simone interviewed in France

Interview 1984

Nina Simone: To Be Free

Nina Simone interview with Mavis Nicholson


Santana Xheladini,

Master’s degree, Musicology

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1 Response

  1. Rudlohja says:

    Bravo!Ky nivel duhet med jush!

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