Today marks the 79th year of the birth of my musical idol Nina Simone. I have been playing Nina’s music since I got out of bed this morning. I play her music every morning while I am brushing my teeth and washing my face, but on 21 February, I play Nina’s music all day long. It is my tribute to her. I have been doing this for the past nine years. It is a time of reflection for me.
It takes me back to when I first heard Nina as an 11-
year-old child listening to her album, Little Girl Blue, in utter amazement. It takes me back to watching her perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960 on a small black and white screen TV on a Sunday night at 8 o’clock. I remember that she was seated on the stage in a long gown with a train attached and looked so regal as she sat at the piano. I remember the pride that I felt in watching her as she played Love Me or Leave Me.
There were many close-ups of her hands, but when she got to the development section of the song, and broke out with nothing but counterpoint, it sounded like a Bach fugue. Her hands ran all over the keyboard and the cameras followed every stroke. She then went back into the vocals and ended the song with another round of counterpoint before ending the song with a series of chords that made you think that you were truly listening to a classical piece of music. Before she finished the final cadence of the song, the audience was applauding.
Nina did not miss a beat, for she went right into I Loves You Porgy with the aid of a few transition chords. Once again, she infused some counterpoint into this song and I felt like I was in a concert hall. Before she could finish the song, the audience was once again applauding, smiling, and commenting to each other as the camera fanned out across the crowd. Nina got up from the piano with a big smile on her face knowing that she had “done good”. I was beaming and so full of pride because I felt that she was representing me. It was rare to see someone of color on The Ed Sullivan Show and someone who had represented so well. So, today, on Nina’s 79th birthday, I salute her.
June I. King
Simone Family Friend
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."