Nina Simone: The High Priestess Goes Home
“ She was truly spellbinding. ”
Eunice Waymon was her real name, and Nina Simone became her pianistic claim to fame in the realm of music that started in the turbulent days of the Civil Rights Movement. Her voice and music ceased to be Monday, April 21st, in the South of France. She had recently completed her Millennium Tour with a second LA performance during the holidays.
The voice of “Four Women,” “I Put A Spell On You,” “Mississippi Goddam,” and “Young Gifted and Black” came home to America for her farewell and returned to France to go home and to rise up high to the heavenly heavens.
My mom introduced me to Nina Simone and her version of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” in 1959. It was the hottest Broadway play going, and so was Nina’s version of “I Loves You Porgy”. It presented her to the world audience of Jazz and introduced the “High Priestess” who not only had soul, but commitment to the Civil Rights movement with her songs and music.
Coming from Tryon, North Carolina, Simone knew the dramatic differences between Black and White, and when she was not accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music College to study concert piano, she knew it had nothing to do with piano expertise since she had played since the age of 4. It was classic racism that denied her admittance to the college, so she left North Carolina for the Apple to attend the Julliard School of Music.
While attending Julliard she worked at an Irish bar in New Jersey to make money to send home to the family and was told by the proprietor that she had to sing as we'll as play piano. Thus began the singing career of Nina Simone who adopted the name from the actress Simone Signoret and was signed to Bethlehem Records. She later signed with Colpix, RCA, and Mercury.
After the success of “I Loves You Porgy”, Nina acquired instant fame in New York, and was featured on the “Today Show” with Dave Garroway many times. Garroway always said that Nina was his favorite singer.
The 60’s were turbulent times in the States and in Mississippi, 4 little girls were bombed and killed at 16th St. Baptist Church and Medgar Evers, NAACP president (South), was shot and killed as he stepped from his car---all killed by the KKK. A tremendously disturbed Nina wrote “Mississippi Goddam.”
Miles and Nina were just alike, and thus it was appropriate for them to perform on the same bill at the Shrine Auditorium in l976....Both demanding of their audiences to attentively listen to their performances. Miles and Nina both maintained their postures until their passings.
During her “Millennium” tour stop in L.A, it was the same magnanimous Nina Simone who would pause as she would for emphasis in her song to make certain the audience heard what she had to sing---No admonishments as in the old days. She had mellowed since her expatriation to France.
Nina was like jazz musicians of the '50s who became tired of the bitter tastes of record companies’ lack of promotion and monies. So she too left the U.S. for finer shores of appreciation of her music, escaping the Jim Crow attitudes still prevalent in the States. She first moved to Barbados, Liberia, Paris, and finally finding lasting happiness in the South of France near Nice.
Her most moving songs were “I Put A Spell On You,” “Young Gifted And Black,” “Four Women,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Nina was a storytelling Griot who covered the gamut of song stylings thru her interpretations of songs by Gershwin, Langston Hughes, The Stones, Dylan, to Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
Nina Simone was a pure artist, a strong woman revered for her principles and ethics. Not becoming a concert pianist didn’t deter her from pursuing music and vocal perfection. And when you attended her concerts, whether Town Hall, The Village Gate or Ronnie Scott's---she would present a verbal manifesto to her audience that would be adhered to and enjoyed. Singing was her soul and all who adored her will remember eternally, each time they hear Nina Simone---The High Priestess of Soul. She was truly spellbinding.