Under a Strange, Soulful Spell: Nina Simone 1933-2003

From The New York Times:

Nina In 1960, one year after Nina Simone’s first album, “Little Girl Blue,” was released, the poet Langston Hughes struggled to put the appeal of Simone’s music and presence — that dusky voice, that unblinking gaze — into words. “She is strange,” Hughes wrote in The Chicago Daily Defender. “So are the plays of Brendan Behan, Jean Genet and Bertolt Brecht. She is far out, and at the same time common. So are raw eggs in Worcestershire.” Hughes was just getting warmed up. “She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl, so is Ernie Banks.” He continued: “You either like her or you don’t. If you don’t, you won’t. If you do — wheee-ouuueu! You do!”

Simone soon befriended Hughes, and through him she dove into the beating heart of that era’s young black intelligentsia, becoming close to both James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, who would become godmother to Simone’s daughter. That Simone was absurdly talented was already clear. But her new friends helped crystallize her inchoate political thinking. One result was a stunning song, “Mississippi Goddam,” written by Simone in the wake of the 1963 Birmingham church bombings and the killing of the civil rights advocate Medgar Evers. In many respects it represented the pinnacle of what would become a long and tangled career. “Alabama’s got me so upset,” Simone sang. “Tennessee made me lose my rest./But everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.”

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