Prompted by the summer release of the 7-CD boxed set, The Phillips Years, a period during which she was at the absolute peak of her considerable powers, I have been revisiting the catalogue of the unique Nina Simone in a big way of late. I would actually go as far as to describe this rediscovery as bordering on obsession, as I just cannot get enough of her remarkable music to the extent that I am on a committed path to gradually picking up every album of note from the forty-odd she released.
It feels timely to be listening to Nina so heavily right now, and learning all about her crazy life. (Rather than ask me about her, just watch the wonderful documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? - just released on DVD with a best of CD - to see what I mean.)
But what do I mean by 'timely'? Well, concerning the recent spate of totally unacceptable deaths of unarmed African-American citizens at the hands of trigger-happy cops, to be by coincidence immersing myself in the music and messages of a woman who was so deeply involved with the Civil Rights Movement that she ultimately became viewed as a black power icon can only be termed thus.
Initially following the non-violent doctrine of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when - like any sane individual, of any colour - Nina had had her fill of the lynchings, police brutality (yeah, nothing has changed), segregation and abusive daily racism, she changed her tune, so to speak, to become ever more militant in line with the revolutionary Black Panthers. To this end, I wonder what the woman who was inspired to pen Mississippi Goddam would have had to say about these recent tragic events?
I try hard to desensitize myself from the evils of this world, but - resigned to the fact that wherever there are humans there are problems, that there always have been and always will be - I try to get on with my life as best and peacefully as I can, yet keeping myself informed. Listening to Nina Simone has stirred up my interest in the Civil Rights Movement once more, as it's a subject and period of American history I read extensively about when travelling in the US many years ago. If your interest is aroused, I would heartily recommend seeking out the book Free at Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It, by Fred Powledge, as a starting point.
At the end of the day, though, music is a healing force, and as much as I might consider the motivation behind the lyrics of many of her most angry songs, I am able to simply enjoy the extraordinary power of one of the most breathtaking performers the world has ever seen without getting too fired up and raising my blood pressure higher than it already is. I could have chosen any one of a ton of clips to illustrate this (especially, oh my, the incredible Sinnerman), but the one at the top of this post will do nicely, especially for anyone who has somehow yet to experience the one-off genius that was, and always will be, Miss Nina Simone.