The great Civil Rights-era “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone was born on this day in 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina. Simone was one of the 20th century’s greatest—and most controversial—musicians, calling for armed and violent revolution by Black people so that African Americans could form a separate state. She was made to feel quite unwelcome in Nixon’s America and disappointed by the revolutionary and political movements she had been associated with, became a citizen of the world. “America had betrayed me, betrayed my people and stamped on our hopes,” she told interviewers. “No way am I ever going to go back there and live. You get racism crossing the street, it’s in the very fabric of American society.”
When Simone did finally return to the US, in 1985, she was immediately arrested for tax evasion (she had refused to pay taxes as a protest against the war in Vietnam). She died at her home in France in 2003.
In this utterly extraordinary footage of Nina Simone performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 (“the Black Woodstock), she does her powerful song “Revolution,” of which John Lennon said in 1971:
“I thought it was interesting that Nina Simone did a sort of answer to “Revolution.” That was very good — it was sort of like “Revolution,” but not quite. That I sort of enjoyed, somebody who reacted immediately to what I had said.”
I think her idea of what sort of revolution was called for and his were quite a bit different. He was in the bag, so to speak, for peace. Simone wasn’t.
And now we got a revolution
Cause I see the face of things to come
Yeah, your Constitution
Well, my friend, it’s gonna have to bend
I’m here to tell you about destruction
Of all the evil that will have to end
Singin’ about a revolution
Because were talkin’ about a change
It’s more than just evolution
Well you know you got to clean your brain
The only way that we can stand in fact
Is when you get your foot off our back
If you want to see all of the jaw-dropping footage of Nina Simone at the Harlem Cultural Festival, they’ve pieced together her entire set over at Arthur.