Celebrating the revolutionary Nina Simone

The 2015 documentary on Nina Simone, “What Happened, Miss Simone” was an instant classic. The Toronto bookstore, A Different Booklist, organized a group of people to screen the film together when it was first shown here.

Nina Simone was born on February 21, 1933. The month of February is dedicated to Black History in the U.S and Canada.

African Martyrs’ Day, celebrated on the day El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated, also falls on Nina’s birthday.

Nina passed away on April 21, 2003 at 70 years old.

Nina Simone was an African born with the name Eunice Kathleen Waymon in the United States.

She was the sixth child of a preacher’s family, in Tryon, North Carolina.

She was a singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and human rights activist who used her talent as a weapon in the struggle for world African liberation.

Since childhood, she wanted to become a black concert pianist. Colonialism, however, said no to that.

She worked in a broad range of styles from classical to so-called jazz, R & B, folk and blues.

Surprisingly she even had pop success in the beginning of her career with the song “I Love You Porgy,” in 1958.

Nina’s revolutionary work and music

At the highest tide of African resistance in the late ‘60s early ‘70s, Simone was in the vanguard of cultural workers.

She supported armed self-defense and self-determination for Africans in the United States. Nina once said to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I’m not non-violent.”

Simone also spoke up for women and rejected the term jazz in favor of black classical music.

The musician recorded more than forty albums, mostly between 1958 until she passed. She sold the rights to her first album for 3,000 dollars. She never recovered from this business blunder.

I was blessed to have seen Simone twice, once in Detroit and again in Toronto.

In Detroit she moved the women when she performed “Four Women.”

The song deals with shade-ism and abuse. Women and men united when she sang “Mississippi God Damn.”

Many in the audience were born in Mississippi or had roots from that redneck state. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was well received by the largely working class crowd.

The last time I saw Simone was in Toronto several years later. The mixed audience there also welcomed her splendid performance.

Many artists have paid tribute to Simone in recent times. I attended a concert at UCLA in Los Angeles where U.S.-born singer-songwriter and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello performed an album she recorded of Simone’s music.

East Africa-born singer and songwriter Somi did a rewind of “Four Women.” The musical group Sweet Honey in the Rocks paid tribute to Odetta, Miriam Makeba and Simone on “Sweet Honey Pays Tribute to Three Legends.”

Simone pays homage to Lorraine Hansberry

Simone pays homage to Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930-January 12, 1965) for pulling her coat to the struggle for Africa, Africans and African women. Hansberry was a petty bourgeois writer from Chicago, whose most famous work, “A Raisin in the Sun,” was popularized on the big screen with the help of Sidney Portier.

Simone bigs up Hansberry in her autobiography, “I Put A Spell On You.” Simone says, “Lorraine was most definitely an intellectual, and saw civil rights as only one part of the wider racial and class struggle. She understood that I felt separated from what from what was going on, but told me over and over that like or not I was involved in the struggle by the fact of being black––it made no difference whether I admitted it or not, the fact was still true…”

Simone continues, “Lorraine started off my political education, and through her I started thinking about myself as a person in a country run by white people and a woman in a world run by men. I realized I was ignorant and had much to learn, but my teachers from Lorraine onwards were the cream of the movement: Stokely Carmichael, Godrey Cambridge and many, many others, most of who I would never meet face to face by in their writings, speeches or just in their actions…”

Nina played “In the Evening by the Moonlight” at Lorraine’s funeral service in New York. Before she died, Lorraine had been working on a new play, “To be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Nina later stated, “I took the title and wrote a song around it in memory of Lorraine, and of so many others.”

Nina Simone’s death

Nina was a citizen of the world, having lived in Barbados, Liberia, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

She had suffered from breast cancer for several years before she died in her sleep in France.

When Simone passed, many of our greatest came to pay tribute. Miriam Makeba, Patti LaBelle, Sonia Sanchez, Ossie Davis and others.

Even the black “misleadership” class was forced to acknowledge Simone’s greatness.

Her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

Nina Simone’s revolutionary spirit and musical genius will forever be remembered.

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