Nina Simone (1933-2003) sang a mix of Soul, Jazz, Blues and Folk in the 1950s and 1960s, and although she never went away, recording and giving concerts for decades, she had a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s when she was embraced by LGBTQ music lovers.
An uncompromising staunch Civil Rights activist, she was known for challenging tunes like Mississippi Goddam, Young, Gifted And Black, and Four Women.
“To most white people, jazz means black and jazz means dirt, and that’s not what I play. I play black classical music.”
She was one of the most extraordinary artists of the 20th century; a consummate musical storyteller who used her remarkable talent to create a legacy of liberation, empowerment, passion, and love through a magnificent body of works.
When Simone died in 2003, she left a timeless treasure trove of recordings spanning over four decades starting with her first hit in 1959 I Loves You Porgy.
In a 1968 interview, Simone said:
“I will tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear! “
The interview appears early in the remarkable documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? (2016) by Liz Garbus, and it is a startling moment, because if Simone conveyed anything on stage, it was fearlessness.
Her repertoire was standard supper club fare: George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan; yet whatever she sang ended up sounding like a Nina Simone tune. She did not just interpret songs, she owned them.
Simone attracted a large gay following. She was bisexual and hung out at a lesbian bar in New York City called Trude Heller’s.
By the end of her life, Simone was world famous and adored. Her last album, A Single Woman, was recorded in 1993, but even without something new, Simone sold over two million albums in the last decade of her life.