FEELING NINA SIMONE
Today is Eunice’s Birthday, and although she passed some time ago, Nina exists. When I think of Nina Simone I cling to the black and white keys under her influence. Sometimes elegant and sophisticated and later in years raw with emotion, uncontrollable and often darker than her cocoa brown skin.
I can go from song to song, and something binding; “Black was the color of my true love hair…” lingers when love is failing, and nothing inflicts the truth of our discourse with racial divide like Mississippi Goddam. So many soul-stirring, get-in-your-face legendary recordings, and performances, her listeners are often left shaking our heads in disbelief, waving hands in agreement, and even smoking a cigarette, even if you didn’t smoke out of frustration. If you were ill-prepared to receive Nina, and even when you were, she could leave you in tears.
Imposed restraints were impossible for her, and her freedom escaped through bouts of denial, sabotage, praise, and even death. Her magnificent artistry found us on many foreign soils and freed us, as she struggled. Writer, composer, performer, and so much more; Nina was the real deal, and nothing was more real than her live performances.
As she seasoned, through the years, her live performances, you never knew what concoction of Nina you would receive, even when she was performing other folk music, it became hers — like Four Women. If new to Nina you wanted more, and more you got, like in her performance of Young Gifted and Black, if you were fortunate to hear the instrumentals, you were a fan of her music and contribution.
Raw, deep and sometimes ugly but righteous, you felt her art, and she was vibrant, she was Nina Simone.
Nina Simone came to us because Eunice was denied. Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina a prodigy in her own right, but not by her appearance. Eunice’s creation of Nina, although experiencing varying degrees of turbulence was resilient, developing her talent, which would be recognized as brilliance on a global platform.
While Eunice was shunned, she found us by giving us Nina when we were and still -in search of ourselves. Nina emerged from velvet tones to raw, deep, fierceness, sometimes emersed in ugliness, sullen places, or in heart-wrenching lovesick tears. Nina gave us everything.
One of my many favorites, Wild As the Wind, and as I listen I imagine two women baring their souls -a shared existence. The beautiful piano barely-there reveals Eunice’s heart, while Nina protects Eunice’s gentle art with her prolific vocals.
When I close my eyes to listen, I see them both like sisters, entangled in each other’s emotions, fighting to offer the best of what each knows is there, and theirs, not focused on the audience, unless disruptive, but the pure delivery of something so sacred, they sacrifice their selves to perform something so abstract, like the wind.
Eunice and Nina lived inside each song, which was dangerous if you joined them there, drawn to the beautiful darkness, you can easily get lost in a place of despair. Especially, if you don’t have something or someone to draw you out, you may give over, to the theatrics of the music, as she did — as reflected in several of her performances, such as her live Montreux 1976 performance of Stars/Feelings.
Eunice’s creation of Nina came at a sacrifice of her name but not her feelings, as she attached herself to every note and lyric. May we continue to enjoy (their) music, intentionally sharing with new audiences, and reminding ourselves to consume with deserved respect.