Nina Simone: All hail the High Priestess of Soul
Nina Simone was a classically trained pianist and learned to hone the depths of her voice after taking up a gig where the restaurant owner wanted her to sing as well as play. Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933, Simone was raised in the church, and that experience cultivated a love for music and led to the progression of her art as a piano player. Simone infused gospel, jazz, blues and classical into her style and impeccable arrangements. Dubbed the "High Priestess of Soul," Nina Simone is a classic writer, composer and singer.
Known for her volatility in the music industry -- she once reportedly shot at a royalty-stealing record executive -- Simone's talent far outweighed these moments. An avid civil rights activist, the singer became known for providing many soundtracks for black life during that era, songs like, "Four Women," and especially "Strange Fruit" (Billy Holiday's song about the lynching of black men in the south) were riddled with freedom messages.
Paling around with the likes of Miriam Makeba (who, later in Simone's life, persuaded the singer to move to Liberia from Barbados), Lorraine Lansberry, Simone was often in good company of other activists who were using their art to help ease the plight of the people. Songs like, "Sinnerman," maintained her gospel influence while "Mississippi Goddamn," spoke passionately about the hardships of blacks in the south.
Her gravelly, yet controlled voice accompanied her piano playing as a complimentary element. Simone frequently used silence as a component to her shows in addition to otherwise engaging her audiences in direct dialogue. "Work Song," shows that Simone understood the struggle and could translate the ire into musical terms. An excellent songwriter, singer and composer, Nina Simone deftly captured the experiences of black life.
February has traditionally been the month when the contributions from, traditions of and historical facts about African-Americans are celebrated. In honor of Black History Month, Backbeat will be celebrating iconic figures in the world of black music.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music