I discovered Nina Simone's music when I was walking down the hall in my dorm at Webster College in St. Louis. I heard Nina’s voice coming from my friend’s room – it was "Four Women." I stood in the hall transfixed and then went out and bought all of Nina’s albums. She was so raw and seemingly unafraid -- but something in me sensed great vulnerability beneath her boldness.
Years later I finally met her. My dear friend Attallah Shabazz brought her to see me in "The Diva is Dismissed," the one-woman show I was performing at The Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles. I knew she was in the audience and gave her my best performance! Afterwards, she came up and extended her hand and said, "I am Nina Simone." But instead of shaking her hand, I hugged her tight and whispered in her ear, "I've studied every note you've ever sung -- and my name is Peaches too!" She cracked up -- I was so happy that I made Nina Simone laugh.
But more than anything I admired her audacity to be black during a time when being black was controversial. For me there was Mahalia Jackson, Ethel Merman, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone - they sang out LOUD and I heard them loud and clear. Hail Queen Simone.
(photo by Camrin William)
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."