NINA SIMONE:
The Spell Is Cast (And It’s Going Nowhere)
 
by DANIEL BASS
for VocalMusician.com
 
        This year, the world suffered a loss it probably will never realize.  A musical tour de force passed
away.  And the name of that being was NINA SIMONE.  As a person who accomplished so much, professionally,
artistically, and politically, Dr. SIMONE was a woman who commanded great respect.  Hailed as the "High
Priestess of Soul," SIMONE wove a dark tapestry of emotion and musicality that cast a spell over all who heard
it and it won’t unravel any time soon.
        SIMONE spent her entire childhood developing herself to be the "first black concert pianist," becoming
the church keyboardist before 2nd grade. She also took extensive lessons from a local piano teacher.  Later,
she studied under the tutelage of a Juilliard professor, further honing her skills at the piano.  Because of
racial prejudice she was not accepted to the school of her dreams.  She still became a piano player of immense
talent, but that is not why I love her.
        SIMONE joined various causes in the fight for civil rights, taking part in rallies, sit-ins, marches,
and musical protests.  She set an impeccable standard for the other artists involved in the movement.  She
garnered respect for her involvement, making friends with Langston Hughes, MIRIAM MAKEBA, Stokely Carmichael,
Lorraine Hansberry and myriad others, but all of that is not why I love her.
        I bet you’re wondering, "Why the hell does he love her then?"  Well, I am a singer. "Who cares?" you
might say.  Being a singer informs all of who I am and when I encounter another singer with the breadth and
scope shown in SIMONE’s artistry, my whole soul is thrilled. So here is why I love her:
        Firstly, SIMONE is the personification of genre-blending.  She draws from gospel, blues, jazz, folk,
classical, and pop and makes them all her own.  In a world of pigeonholing and categorizing, SIMONE defies all
of those labels.  She blended classical piano with her ever-evocative singing to create a sound that no one had
ever heard before.  She could wring as much emotion from a pop ballad as she could a spiritual and make you
believe them both equally.
        Next, NINA SIMONE’s voice is a thing of dark beauty.  She began vocally accompanying herself in bars as
a means of earning money to further her piano studies.  Her singing was almost an accident.  Her instrument
draws comparisons to a thunderstorm’s brewing. Before the torrential onslaught, there is a stillness.  But the
stillness holds a great threat because you know that the winds, rains, and lightning are on the way.
        And that lightning that SIMONE possesses is her emotion.  She presents through her voice such an
intensity of emotion that she can cut through your soul with just a few bars. With songs like “Don’t Explain”,
“Wild is the Wind”, “I Put a Spell on You”, “Four Women”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Pirate Jenny”,
Dr. SIMONE wields her voice to create such intense feeling that it is emotionally devastating to listen to. 
That is her truest gift. Her strength does not lie in her brilliant, virtuoso piano playing.  It does not lie
in her political alliances.  It does not even lie in her aching alto.  Her gift lies in her absolute ability to
rip your soul to shreds with hers.
        And that is why I love her.  And that is why every music lover in America should hold NINA SIMONE in
the highest esteem; she exemplifies everything that art is truly about.  NINA SIMONE deserves more than a
heartfelt eulogy; she deserves the recognition she never truly received during her lifetime.  Her artistry
however, lives on.  And like she said, "I put a spell on you... Because you’re mine."  And it is true.  After
one listen, it becomes true.
 

 

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