My Personal Top 10 Female Singers – No 4
…in no particular order & with my favorite recordings…
Number Four: Nina Simone
“To be Young, Gifted & Black”
Interview and performance of Young, Gifted and Black (click)
Nina Simone (1933 – 2003) was so multi talented, it is hard to choose what to highlight. Despite being black, poor, one of eight children, her musical talent from a very young age onward culminated in her well- earned status of the “High Priestess of Soul”.
Simone for the first time openly addressed the racial inequality that was prevalent in the United States with the song “Mississippi Goddam” (click on link for this 1965 live performance), her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four black children.
Her talent as a classically trained pianist, her unique contralto voice, her range and her active stand in the civil rights movement make her a unique female singer in the sixties and seventies. I love these live recordings of her songs “Revolution” and “I Ain’t got no, I got life” (click on link) at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 (note the funky stage set!):
Nina Simone performing “Revolution” (click on link) live in 1969
A darling on the Jazz festival circuit, she was rediscovered in 1987 by a much younger audience when Chanel used her “My Baby Just Cares For Me” for a commercial. I am so touched by this extraordinary late live performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Nina’s piano playing is so beautiful, her love for Bach is clearly there and her voice is so soft and fragile…a unique version!
Nina Simone also recorded the seminal “Strange Fruit”, but that song and its many interpreters merits a post of its own later. Finally in my favorites there is the haunting “Sinnerman“, used in the 1999 remake of the film “The Thomas Crown Affair” to great effect (click on link to hear this rare acoustic live performance)!
Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair”
Nina’s life was no bed of roses, battling with prejudice, mental disorder, tax problems, she died in France after a long illness. She received late in life several honorary degrees, and she proudly wanted to be known as Dr. Nina Simone. The New Yorker magazine published a long article about Nina Simone in 2014.