Happy birthday to the great Nina Simone!! Pianist, singer, anti-war and civil rights activist, an inspiration to generations. This great talent from North Carolina captivated everyone that came in her path or heard her music. A gifted arranger, she could take any tune, or combination of tunes, and turn them into epic statements. Her music melded gospel, jazz, classical, blues and pop, with the clear purpose of many politicized folk artists of her day.
Born Eunice Waymon, she aspired to be a pioneering black concert pianist and only reluctantly became a jazz singer after racist rejection from a prestigious school. But she turned that voice into a powerful and passionate instrument of protest, and her tunes were often mobilizers.
In '58 her first hit was "I Loves You, Porgy", of which she saw extremely little financial reward. Her 1964 live recording of "Mississippi Goddamn" was a seething protest piece, a response to racially-targeted violence in the apartheid US. Despite the record being destroyed and boycotted by Ku Klux Krakkers in the South, it was destined for infamy. After this her music took a decidedly pointed direction in alignment with the civil rights movement.
Her 1972 live concert at Fort Dix military base (found on Emergency Ward!), highlighted by a performance of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" in which she questions God as a killer for sending the soldiers off to die (complete with "hallelujahs" from a teenage choir) was one of recorded music's biggest "fuck you" moments of protest. After her incredible 1974 album It Is Finished (which included the supremely nasty "Funkier Than A Mosquito's Tweeter"), she left the country and declared it a sick place.
In '92 her autobiography, I Put A Spell On You, was released and is a must-read. She was not afraid to criticize America, nor was she afraid to turn her back on it. In '95 she shot at a record company suit in demand of money owed to her, one of several gun-related incidents from Nina's hands. She died in France in 2003, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Live at Fort Dix military base, 1972, she was in demand of the soldiers but she had to have her program of music approved by the military before she was cleared to play. No problem: a few back-to-the-roots gospel numbers, pop renditions, a choir of girls from some Jersey projects...how simple and easy would that be? Well...she turned it into beautiful protest. Simply epic and powerful: