I remember the first time I heard a Nina Simone song on the radio. It was on a public radio station in the Bay area and the song was "Trouble in Mind." It was a beautiful Sunday and I was sitting in my white rocking chair on my porch. I had the door to my house wide open as the radio blasted from inside my living room.
I didn't care if the entire neighborhood could hear it! I was feeling good about myself because I was a young, new homeowner. The sky was very blue and the grass freshly cut. Bugs were flying all around and purple and yellow flowers were basking in the sunlight. I was on my porch rocking away with a cold glass of lemonade.
I had heard Nina's music before, because my mama used to play her records and sing "Mississippi Goddam" all the time when I was a little girl. It was the song she would sing to wake me and my sister up in the mornings for school. We would groan and moan about getting up, but mama would keep singing the song until we finally got out of bed. I never saw Ms. Nina's face but I knew her name. I definitely remembered that voice. It always stopped me in my tracks.
Once again, her voice made me still. This time I was on my porch and I was finally listening to her on my own as an adult. That piano rolled into my ears like a train and she meant it that way. I stopped rocking in my chair because the way she hollered at the notes fascinated me. Her command was sexy, defiant and filled with so much fire. I got up and went inside to be closer to the speakers . . . closer to Nina. I closed my eyes, sitting alone on my sofa crying after she sang, "But I won't be blue always." My tears and her voice went on and on and in my soul, it felt so familiar. She was singing about my loneliness and that was the moment I connected with Queen Nina Simone. I think I got in my car that day and bought every book, box set and video I could find. I listened, watched, read and began to soak in her spirit. I quietly thanked her for being so proud, black and beautiful. I found myself wishing I’d had the chance to sit and talk to her about love and about the changes in our society. I would’ve asked her how to hide my tears when people were hard on me for being different. So much I wanted to ask . . . but I probably would have been too afraid, so I just sat and listened.
I never thought years later that singing her song, "Four Women” on Black Girls Rock, would literally catapult my career to a level that I never would have dreamed of. Her legacy lifted me and reminded me to be proud of my skin and embrace the walk I was given. I truly hope I made her proud. Every now and then, I hope she can feel how much I love her. She has saved my life so many times. Her music lets me know I am not alone in my journey. It’s alright to be different. I adore Ms. Nina Simone! I always remember her spirit by listening to her music, every Sunday.
13 Comments to “Ledisi on Nina Simone’s Influence”
She was one of the most extraordinary artists of the twentieth century, an icon of American music. She was the consummate musical storyteller, a griot.
As she would come to learn, who used her remarkable talent to create a legacy of liberation, empowerment, passion, and love through a magnificent body of works. She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment. She was who the world would come to know as Nina Simone.
I remember the first time I heard a Nina Simone song on the radio. It was on a public radio station in the Bay area and the song was "Trouble in Mind." It was a beautiful Sunday and I was sitting in my white rocking chair on my porch.
“When I was an aspiring young artist searching for my voice, purpose, and direction, my early teachers took note of the fire burning in my belly, and they individually fanned the flame into passion, by introducing me to great Black women artists who presented their artistry with clarity and unrestrained courage.
One of those great women was the unmistakable, Ms. Nina Simone. I am eternally grateful to my teachers for this particular introduction."