Saturday, December 27, 2014

Nina Simone: A woman ahead of her time.

by Richard Mellor

I was listening to some Nina Simone's stuff today and had to go to YouTube just to watch her again. Her original name was Eunice Kathleen Waymon and I have commented on this woman before. I remember first hearing her sing when I was a young teenager. I loved the blues and although she was predominantly a singer in the Jazz genre I would say, she could sing anything. In one of the performances of Mississippi Goddamn she started off by saying that this was a "showtune" but the "show hasn't been written for it yet." and continued to play it in that style.

Like Bob Dylan who sung of Medgar Evers murder she sang this in response to that killing. I learned after I left the UK and came to the US that she had performed many times at Ronnie Scotts in London.  She also lived in FRance for a while and sang in French I believe. When I came to the US I worked in a factory in Spring Street Manhattan, one stop from West 4th. My co-workers were mostly black and Puerto Rican. It was 1973 and I remember feeling so cool that here I was around these brothers, the real thing. I could share my blues feelings with them and talked of Big Bill Broonzy, Mississipi Fred McDowell and others and of course, some of the young guys had never heard of them and some even spoke of them disparagingly.  They had grown up with the Panthers, Malcom X and Motown.

Nina Simone was not a name they were familiar with and even today I meet black folks that have never heard of her.   She had a huge affect on me and I remember hearing she wanted to be a classical pianist but was refused entry to a music school because she was black. She loved Bach. I have a vinyl album produced in 1969. It is a band called Black Cat Bones and the album is titled Barbed Wire Sandwich.  This was the end of the heyday of the blues era.  That album has four white rockers singing a couple of her songs, Four Women about the various shades of skin tone in US society and what it means socially and Feelin' Good.  The lead guitarist of this band, Rod Price,  went on to play with Foghat

She has performed many political songs not least this one.  Watch her perform. Watch her facial expressions and appreciate the depth of her feelings as she sings this very political and explosive song.  Imagine the anger that arises when people are treated this way. I am shifting gears a bit here but it's why seniority is so important for us as workers. People recognize that if you are number 4 on the list and I am number 7 you've been here longer we have the same skill level so it's not my turn. We may wish we were further up the list but we are not passed over due to our race, religion, color, sexual orientation or any other inconsequential detail and the same anger and division that occurs when we have no control is absent. The bosses hate it of course because it undermines their power in the workplace as it strengthens ours.

Nina Simone was one of the greatest performers of my era. I'd ask young people, and especially young black folk to delve a little deeper in to Nina Simone.  This song is very apropos in the light of what is going on today with the occupation of black communities by the state security forces and repeated killings and outright assassinations of young black men.

One cannot but understand the anger someone like she would have and that it would be expressed through her art. I intend to read a biography of her and there is another movie coming out soon I saw on TV. She was not along with MLK and  a non-violent approach to the issue of black liberation but as with all of us, Malcolm X included, we are influenced by the conditions in which we operate and we can change as time passes, this is a good thing. She was a great artist, civil rights activist and humanitarian. She died in 2003.

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