She Was Nina Simone 24/7... A Revolutionary As Well As The High Priestess of Soul
"How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"
My apolitical parents loved Simone's voice, and her records almost got as much airtime in our house as Frank Sinatra's and Steve and Eydie Gormé's. But she was as much an activist for civil rights and against the War Against Vietnam as she was a performer. Born in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933, she died in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, in 2003, having recorded more than 40 albums. "I've always thought," she says in the film, "that I was shaking people up. But now I want to go at it more. And I want to go at it more deliberately and I want to go at it coldly, I want to shake people up so bad that when they leave night club, where I performed... I just want them to be 'to pieces.'" Her concert debut, when she was 12, almost never happened. Her parents were asked to move to the back of the auditorium to make places in the front row for white people. Nina refused to play until her parents were moved back to their seats.
In 1964 she released a live album, Nina Simone in Concert, which included Mississippi Goddam, her response to the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and the brutal bombing by the KKK of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed 4 children. Simone sang the song for 40,000 marchers on their way from Selma to Montgomery. The song was inserted in the 1970 film about Dr. Martin Luther King. Another song on the album, Old Jim Crow, was just as welcomed by Southern racists. She included civil rights songs on all of her subsequent albums and in her live concerts and advocated revolution and the formation of a separate black state. In 1967 was included a song Langston Hughes wrote for her, "Backlash Blues" (below).
She was an inspiration for millions of people, including other musicians-- after she pulled out a gun and took a shot at some shady record company executive who, as was the custom in dealing with African-American musicians, was stealing royalties from her. She missed.