Yesterday, I got a call from a friend. He said I sounded particularly energised in that moment, I told him it was because I had just been listening to some Nina Simone songs and watching some clips of her brilliance.
His response: ‘Who’s Nina Simone?’
My mouth literally dropped open — ‘what the, what?! ‘Everybody knows about Nina Simone’ I exclaimed in deep disappointment. I told him I was considering ‘un-friending’ him, not in a ‘Wastebook’ way (my own petty name for Facebook, cos’ I can’t bare it — ugh), but for real — for real.
After I got off my high horse, I realised I had a duty to share more of what I hold dear. Not because I think everybody should believe what I believe, or think what I think. But because, It helps people connect with eachother. Understand one another alot better. Everybody, should do that — right?
My Baby Just Cares For Me
Born into humble beginnings as a little Black girl named Eunice Kathleen Waymon on the 21st February (a fellow Pisces Sister/Aunty — yesssss!)1933, in the US state of North Carolina. Nina had a strict religious upbringing, her mother was a Methodist Minister who did not allow secular music in the home. Hence, when the time came to step into the worlds music spotlight , Eunice used a stage name — and the world was introduced to Nina Simone.
Ms Simone was a classically trained pianist since early childhood. In 1958, Nina Simone released her debut album called Little Girl Blue. The album included her cover of the 1930 jazz staple song, My Baby Just Cares For Me. It was the first song I heard Nina Simone sing.
Somewhere back in 1980 something (well, it was post 1987 but not into the nineties yet) when I was eleven or twelve years old, was the first time I heard of Nina Simone.
I was home watching TV when all at once — there was the sound of the piano keys and the voice of Nina Simone singing the song My Baby Just Cares For Me. What I was now engrossed in watching and listening to, was a music video for a re-release of the song Ms Simone sang almost thirty years prior.
“My baby don’t care who knows, my baby just cares for me.” — Nina Simone
Some of you might recall said video, It’s ok if you do — it doesn’t make you old, just ‘hip’ in my opinion. Thank me later.
Anyway, it’s the video where Ms Simone was portrayed in ‘claymation’ as a Black cat singing on stage, whilst her band mates who were also cats — played the piano, drums and base in a nightclub setting. Just jamming.
You know how they say ‘inspiration is where you find it’, well — I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but they’re right. I never knew then who Ms Simone was, didn’t know any of her other music or what she looked like. But, she sure did put a spell on me. Seed was planted, I watered it with my incessant curiosity much further down the road in adulthood — discovering more and more about Ms Simone.
Ain’t got no — I got life
Life, can be such a double edged sword sometimes of haves and have nots. The balance can tip so very easily and so fast, like hope and despair. Fairness and unfairness. We can live and die by them, in mind and in body.
I was maybe ten years old, the first time I was called the ‘N’ word. I remember it was on the school playground at play time, this boy I knew came up to me and kept repeating it because I tackled him during football (that’s ‘soccer’ for my US peeps). Funnily enough, the culprit was a brown skinned kid who I think was Filipino. My white friend named Dean, stepped in and told him not to call me that. I appreciate that to this day. All in that one moment — I felt like nobody and somebody.
I listened and watched yesterday as Ms Simone, told the story of her first piano recital she played when she was twelve. Ms Simone was being interviewed by the BBC in 1999, when she recalled how at that age she was aware intellectually of how poverty, racism and segregation that could impact her liberty. But she stated it hadn’t really touched her in a tangible way, that she could fathom until that recital.
As she took to the stage and sat at the piano, she noticed her parents were seated at the back of the hall — as per the racially segregated society of the time. Standing up, Ms Simone told the people that she would not play until her parents were seated at the front. The organisers obliged, Nina’s parents were moved to the front.
Ms Simone clearly had the balls back then to speak out against unfairness, it suggests she also knew that despite what she may not have had — she knew she had life and it was hers to live.
“I Ain’t got no home, ain’t got no shoes, Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no class … Hey, what have I got? Why am I alive anyway? Yeah what have I got, nobody can take away?… got my fingers, got my legs, got my feet, got my toes, got my liver, got my blood… I’ve got life, I’ve got my freedom, I’ve got life, And I’m going to keep it.” — Nina Simone (Ain’t got no-I’ve got life)
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
Ms Simone could sing a song and breathe life into it, not because she was the best singer in the world — but because she could feel it. She was unapologetically Black and proud, during a time of segregation and the struggle for Civil Rights — that sought to undermine and dismiss Blackness as undesirable, and unworthy of humanity.
To be young, gifted and Black
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and Black
Open your heart to what I mean
In the whole world you know
There’s a billion boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and Black
And that’s a fact
When you feel really low
Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know
When you’re young, gifted and Black
Your souls intact — Nina Simone (To Be Young, Gifted and Black)
Ms Simone stood in resistance to the false narratives that a racist system promoted. She was not just an exceptional pianist, not just a singer of songs. She was a protest.
On 12th June 1963, Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated on the doorstep of his home. On 15th September 1963, the Klu Klux Klan (a white supremacist group) bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. They murdered four Black school girls and injured twenty two others.
In response to these racist murders, Ms Simone put pen to paper — and let it bleed. The result, was the song Mississippi Goddam released in 1964.
“Alabamas gotten me so upset, Tennessee made me lose my rest, and everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddam
Picket lines, school boycotts, they try to say it’s a communist plot, all I want is equality for my sister my brother my people and me
You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality, everybody knows about Mississippi, everybody knows about Alabama, everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam”— Nina Simone (Mississippi Goddam)
Ms Simone was a natural born force. A force doesn’t sit still, it moves itself and you. She was a movement within the movement.
“Why am I so insistent on Blackness, Black power, Black culture — I think that’s what you’re asking…The youth are our future, my job is to somehow make them curious enough or persuade them by hook or crook to get more aware of themselves and where they came from and what they are into and what is already there, and just to bring it out, this is what compels me to compel them and I will do it by whatever means necessary.” — Nina Simone
Nina Simone was a Shero, she didn’t need a cape or a super-suit. She wore her Blackness like the night sky, bejeweled in stars. She had her kryptonite, that’s for sure — she had her flaws.
Ms Simone was a high poetess. She made it plain, she wanted equality and freedom.
“You know what freedom is to me, no fear.” — Nina Simone
Everybody knows about inequality. Everybody knows about Injustice. Everybody knows about Parkland. Everybody knows about poverty. Everybody knows about Grenfell. Everybody knows about corruption.
And everybody should know about Nina Simone. Goddam.