Saturday, April 08, 2017

What Happened, Nina Simone?

Nina Simone is, of course, a legendary singer/pianist whose work encompassed jazz, blues, classical, pop, folk, R&B and gospel. I think the fact that her career has covered such a variety of styles may have hindered her overall name recognition, but hopefully this film will help in that regard.

Nina learned piano at a young age and studied rigorously in the hopes that she would become the first black, female classical pianist. She went to Julliard in NYC and when it was time to move on to the next level, she was rejected and she later realized it was because she was black. With the money from her funding and scholarships used up,  she took a job as an entertainer in a bar and the owner told her that she had to sing as well as play, so she did! She changed her name from Eunice Waylon to Nina Simone so that her mother wouldn't know how she was making a living.

Discovered in a bar, she went on to play the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, released an album and had a hit song with "I Love You, Porgy". She married and her husband became her manager and did great things for her, including a successful show at Carnegie Hall - a long-time dream for her. But, at the same time, he drove her to work more'n'more, and she came to resent him and he became abusive.

She stayed with him, though, and continued her career. She became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and wrote a song called "Mississippi Goddam" - a passionate, angry song about the murders taking place and a sentiment that was virtually unheard-of at that point. She immersed herself in this movement and became a major figure, but by becoming violently revolutionary - at one point she asks a crowd "are you ready to kill?" - she did, understandably, hurt her mainstream livelihood. (As an aside, I had no idea that "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was written for her and not the Animals.) Everything became too much for her and she divorced her husband, left her daughter and moved to Liberia.

Eventually, after years of wandering and eking out a living, she settled in France, found friends who helped her career and health and she had a second coming, which lasted until her death in 2003.

This is another powerful documentary about another powerful entertainer, who lived a passionate life.