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Friday, February 19, 2010

Clark Dark's Black History Month Entertainment Spotlight: Nina Simone America's Classical Music Princess Noire Diva Extraordinaire-Part 2

Nina Simone (1933-2003) had valiantly survived a breast cancer diagnosis until April 2003 when she died quietly at her home in France. Before her death there were many shows, recordings, awards, commendations and expressions of her love of humanity.
"For me the music never stops"~ Dr. Nina Simone
1957 the beginning of her career in entertainment was accompanied by the usual "overnight sensation" lights, camera action whirlwind scene. Simone played the better venues as her recordings and live performances made her more popular.

Nina Simone's vocal stylings are characterized by much passion; some call it an androgynous timbre. Her vocal range is very low alto to even baritone lows.

She married briefly to Don Ross; she met and married another man for whom she had a child. Nina Simone gave birth to a daughter during her marriage to former police detective Andy Stroud who became her recording agent. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1970. Her daughter is a singer performer who goes by the mononym Simone.

Many times her music has been classified as jazz. Nina Simone's thoughts on what she considers an erroneous classification:
"To most white people, jazz means black and jazz means dirt and that's not what I play. I play black classical music. That's why I don't like the term "jazz," and Duke Ellington didn't like it either -- it's a term that's simply used to identify black people." Nina Simone in an interview with Brantley Bardin 1997
Simone live or recorded was eccentric, beautiful, sensual, exotic, fiery, energetic, clever with musical renditions as varied as her first recording of a Gershwin tune "I Loves You Porgy" from the musical Porgy and Bess; to her own original composition "Mississippi Goddamn!" Her most prolific period being 1958 through 1974. Her last album was recorded in 1993 "A Single Woman"

Disillusioned by the never ending American racism, personal as well as business challenges involving the record companies, the IRS and failed marriages, Nina Simone left the U.S.. First living in Barbados, then with encouragement from fellow musician and friend the late Miriam Makeeba and others she moved to Liberia.

For the sake of her daughter Lisa Celeste's education Simone moved to Switzerland and later France where she died in 2003.

In 1995 she was awarded by a San Francisco court ownership of 52 of her master recordings.

This composer of more than 500 songs has been called "not a pop singer", "a hopeless eccentric"; she was described in 1993 by Don Shewey in a piece he wrote for the Village Voice, as an artist who has "turned herself into a force of nature, an exotic creature spied so infrequently that every appearance is legendary."

She wrote music that became the narrative for a movement that resounded around the world. She has been called the "High Priestess Of Soul"

Nina Simone's art can be heard on more than 40 recordings both live events and studio sessions. Her music can be heard on film soundtracks, television ads like the Chanel No. 5 ad and television series around the world.


Clark Dark's Black History Month Entertainment Spotlight: Nina Simone America's Classical Music Diva

"There's no other purpose, so far as I'm concerned, for us except to reflect the times, the situations around us and the things we're able to say through our art, the things that millions of people can't say. I think that's the function of an artist and, of course, those of us who are lucky leave a legacy so that when we're dead, we also live on. That's people like Billie Holiday and I hope that I will be that lucky, but meanwhile, the function, so far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times, whatever that might be" Nina Simone to Phyl Garland in a 1969 interview

Nina Simone, nee Eunice Kathleen Waymon (1933-2003), was a musical child prodigy who was born in North Carolina at a time when being black in America was perceived by some as a hindrance to living a successful life of opportunity and equality. She was able to play the piano with great technique and natural style. It was her desire to become a successful classical pianist who performed piano pieces and concertos composed by the greats Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt with renowned orchestras in concert halls around the world.

At the age of three Simone began playing the piano; the first song she learned was a Protestant hymn "God be With You, Till we Meet Again". She continued to play at her local church, her mother was an ordained Methodist minister and her father was a barber. She displayed a natural talent for playing the piano. Members of the community in Tryon, North Carolina provided support for her to take lessons at which she excelled. In return for their support she agreed to play public annual recitals at the local town hall.

Making her concert debut, at the age of twelve, Simone performed a classical piano recital. In two different books about her life Simone recalled during this performance, her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. Simone reported she refused to play until her parents were moved back to the front. Nina Simone says this incident, as well as her rejection, because of her color, by the Curtis School Of Music in Philadelphia, contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.

Simone's parents, had relocated to Philadelphia. and she was not to be deterred from attaining her goal of playing music. Simone accompanied singers and taught piano lessons to raise money to fund her own piano studies at the Juilliard School in New York City.

It was during this period she learned one of her piano students was playing in bars in Atlantic City, New Jersey earning more than she from teaching piano.

In 1954 with an eclectic repertoire, a stage name derived from combining a nickname given her by a former boyfriend and the name of French actress Simone Signoret-who she'd seen in the film "Casque d'Or", she began to use the name "Nina Simone" to hide from her mother's conservative religious disapproval of singing nightclubs.

The owner of the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey required Simone provide vocals in her performance in order she get the job.

And so she sang as well as played music from genres such as classical, jazz, pop, blues and Broadway. She developed a following of younger people who were fascinated by her style and musical expression. The year was 1957 the launch of an iconic musical recording career and a life of social activism that spanned nearly fifty years.

Continued in Part 2...