Saturdays were tedious because there were always chores which didn’t actually take that long but after lunch (which I always enjoyed with Grandmother) I had to go to the beauty parlor. As a kid I didn’t mind but when I got to be 14 or 15 I had other things to prepare for. Of course, many of my friends who were boys would go swimming on summer afternoons and most of us who were girls would sit and watch. Even with swimming caps our hair would get wet and “go back” so we stood or sat on the sidelines. The crazy thing about all that was if there was a dance at the Phillis Wheatley Y you also couldn’t “slow drag” because the boys would be sweaty against your face and your hair would get wet and “go back.” It goes without saying that we were not allowed to slow drag.
But having survived all that we awakened to wonderful Sunday mornings. We attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church where Grandpapa was a Deacon and Grandmother helped with Sunday School and other things. I remember she wasn’t an Usher and she didn’t sing in the choir though she had a beautiful voice nor did she play the piano or organ though she could do both.
I wasn’t actually paid for chores since I slept and ate there but Grandpapa would give me a quarter or sometimes a bit more for Sunday School and Church. I’m a big fan of “rendering” so I didn’t actually mind putting money in both times but finally my Grandmother realized I had nothing left to go for ice cream with the other kids and she kind of directed me to “share” with God but not give it all. Ice cream is important, too. Peach, for her. Vanilla for me.
Bonnie, Joanne, David and the rest would leave Sunday School at about 10:30am and walk down to Carter-Roberts Drug Store. Church didn’t start until 11:00. Carter-Roberts had a juke box where a quarter would get you six songs which individually would be a nickel a piece. We all chipped in. It was Nina Simone, Live At Central Park I think. She was singing I Loves You, Porgy. I already was and remain a big fan of Porgy and Bess. I can understand, though I disagree, with the folk who disliked Amos and Andy. I could see it was important to see Black folk on TV and, to be fair, it was funny. Maybe not funny in the re-run called Good Times and certainly not funny in the sequel called The Jeffersons but Amos and Andy worked for me at that time. Porgy and Bess even I, a kid, knew was important. It is a classic. And if you loved, as did I, mythology Porgy and Bess fit right in. Let me confess: I never actually believed George Gershwin wrote all that music.
I believed Gershwin spent a lot of time “uptown” to learn to translate the music that became a Rhapsody In Blue. I grant him total control of an American in Paris. But P and B? No way. Summertime could be heard anywhere the Black community was giving thanks for another season. The rhythms are all gospel. Even the chants. Strawberry Woman. No way. And Nina Simone reclaimed it for us. She brought that southernersness but a sophisticated level to us. We all loved her.
Our last nickels, having forgone ice cream, went to Nina. And we were satisfied.
So you can imagine that thrill I felt when I walked into Micheaux’s Bookstore in Harlem one Fall afternoon and Nina Simone was there! I didn’t even try to be cool about it. I love you!!! I gushed. She was very nice about it. That Nina Simone had read my book was beyond compare. I was over the top. My mother was coming to town and I was having a party to show Mommy that I have friends and I’m all right. I invited Nina. My thought was this: probably most people are fans so they think the star is always busy doing glamorous things so the star never gets invited to do things with ordinary folk. I gave her my address and phone number. And left.
She came. My mother was thrilled. So was everybody else. Nina was good people. I’m proud to call her my friend.
Favorite Nina Simone Song: You’d Be so Nice to Come Home To
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."