5 Powerful Nina Simone Songs That You Shouldn't Sleep on
Nina Simone played and sang her truth through jazz, blues, and folk music. She learned piano at age 3 and aspired to be the first major African-American concert pianist. She used her remarkable talent to spread a legacy of liberation, empowerment, passion and love to the world.
“AN ARTIST'S DUTY, AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED,
IS TO REFLECT
- Nina Simone
Here are some of our favorite iconic Nina Simone anthems:
On April 4th, 1964, Nina wrote “Mississippi Goddam”- a political song that she composed after the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama. The song became a civil rights anthem that completely changed her career and complicated her relationship with the white establishment while cementing her allegiance with the civil rights movement. She performed this song outside Montgomery, Alabama on a makeshift stage atop empty coffins lent by local funeral homes, the fourth and final night Martin Luther King Jr. and three thousand nonviolent protestors marched.
“Brown Baby”— which was newly written by Oscar Brown, Jr. was about a family’s hopes
for a child born into a better racial order. Nina performed this song- with the ambition to inspire racial equality, outside a black college at the first integrated concert in Birmingham while armed guards and dogs roamed the fields.
Nina Simone's “Four Women” was a direct expression of black feminism. The song addressed and exposed black women’s lack of control over the things that defined them, thereby inspiring the confidence to take back control. It pointed out not only the limited terms by which black women were being defined, but also by exposing the stereotypes used to oppress them. ‘Aunt Sarah’, ‘Saffronia’, and ‘Sweet Thing’, all represented a stereotype of her era. Through this impactful song, Simone exposed the dilemma that black women in America faced: that they were not, and had never been, in control over their own lives, bodies, sexualities or portrayals.
To Be Young, Gifted
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” was written in collaboration with the pianist Weldon Irvine Jnr. It was inspired by her late friend and playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Simone performed the song from the piano while her band accompanied in a 1969 concert in a Morehouse College gymnasium in Atlanta, Georgia. The men in the band wore dashikis, while Simone wore an elegant black suit, high black boots and a large Afro hairstyle, and accessorized with silver jewelry, Cleopatra-style eye makeup, and a corsage.
Ain't Got No / I Got Life
“Ain't Got No/I Got Life” is a mix of two songs from the musical Hair, with lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot. The song helped Simone gain popularity under a new, younger audience, and became a standard in her repertoire. This song is a must-hear because it is an important reminder that even beyond the insanity of this world, we still have the ability to be thankful for just being able to wake up to a new day; To be alive.