It seems our world is fast at work searching for the perfect musician, always poised for the next big thing, hoping they will be the one embodiment of absolutely everything we expect of our artists: genius, beauty, talent, consciousness and a just-beyond-our-grasp aura of otherworldliness.
Our ears search tirelessly for a human vessel gifted with the ability to simultaneously channel the enormity of the universe and the depths of the soul. We want to be brought to tears, we want to be given the chills, and we want to feel connected to everything. It seems our world has a fickle, transient memory; we were already in the presence of such an artist. We were already in the presence of Nina Simone.
Humanly flawed as she was…Nina was a gift from a place or a spirit none of us will ever be able to comprehend. At her prime she was the epitome of an artist and musician. It is not hyperbole to state that at Nina Simone’s peak her art, her music, her style, her contentiousness and her genius were all perfect. Her voice, immediately recognizable, was so uniquely overwhelming that we must consider her greatest disappointment to be our greatest blessing; Nina never intended nor wanted to use her voice. Her dream was to be a classical pianist and had that dream been fulfilled we would’ve been robbed of the gift of her voice and of a career that set the bar for generation after generation of future musicians.
My childhood was anything but easy, running the gamut from being subjected to abuse and bullying to escaping through drugs, partying and violence. Going into early adulthood feeling like a numb survivor, but a survivor nonetheless, Nina’s voice hit me so powerfully that she immediately caused me to do something I’d thought myself incapable of for so long that I’d forgotten all about it – Nina’s voice caused me to feel.
Perhaps because she never fully intended to use it so she didn’t focus too intently on training it as an instrument, Nina’s voice was nothing if not purely real. There was no pretense, no constriction, no tense effort. Nina opened her mouth and a voice seemingly fell out of her soul. She didn’t try to sing, she just opened her mouth. While not the most flowery, disciplined of voices she possessed something even greater: deep, raw, powerful, boundless emotion. All the superficially pretty voices in the world combined cannot match the brutal yet elegant sophistication of Nina’s voice. Her voice was like red wine and just like red wine it can be an acquired taste. Once acquired however, one will never settle for anything less and all other tastes seem just so very hollow.
Giving me the ability to feel again and experiencing the depths a voice as powerful as Nina’s can open up in each of us has left me sensing I owe a debt to her that, while it might never be repaid, increasingly motivates and frustrates me. To say Nina Simone was underappreciated isn’t justice enough for her. She was neglected, abused and exploited. Whether it be a product of her race, sex, civil activism or provocative personality it is inexcusable and a sad testament to a culture that values entertainment over integrity. I can only hope I live to see the day when the legacy of Nina Simone is exalted to the level she and her family deserve. I am gracious beyond words to her daughter, Simone, for allowing me the opportunity to continue repaying the debt we all owe her mother, Nina Simone.
Website Content Manager of NinaSimone.com