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Nina Simone calls for ‘Revolution’ at the Harlem Cultural Festival, 1969
02.21.2014
12:55 pm

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Nina Simone


 
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.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Awkward moments in music history: Nina Simone just can’t get an audience to clap in time
11.27.2013
07:52 am

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Music

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone
 
There’s a bit by the late comedian Mitch Hedberg that perfectly describes the sort of Kafkaesque nightmare that can only be shared between an audience and a performer. Hedberg was at a heavy metal concert when the band’s frontman demanded to know, “How many of you people feel like human beings tonight?” Hedberg enthusiastically cheered, not expecting the follow-up of “How many of you feel like animals?” The intended cue to cheer was actually the second question, but the comedian hadn’t anticipated that, thinking, “Yes, I do feel like a human. I do not feel like a tree.”

The embarrassment for this kind of public faux pas can be pretty bad; even the band tends to feel some fremdschämen for awkward fans. Nina Simone, however, manages to laugh off any tension during this 1987 performance of Be My Husband. But holy hell, the audience just cannot keep their claps on the offbeats! It’s baffling, but Simone maintains infinite patience, light-heartedly instructing the world’s most arrhythmic audience in her cheerful Franglais. (The recording, by the way, was made at the Vine St. Bar & Grill in Hollywood, and Simone, who later lived in France, may have just been brushing up on her language skills.)
 

 
For a version that will actually make you shiver, check out this performance from the Antibes Juan-les-Pins Jazz Festival in 1965. Seriously, cleanse your palate.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Nina Simone breaks down in tears during interview: ‘I’m not very happy’
09.25.2013
07:59 am

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone
Nina Simone and her daughter, who recently caused a stir by criticizing the casting of Zoe Saldana as Simone in a bio-pic. Noting that a large part of her mother’s impact stemmed from her dark skin, wide nose, and full lips, Simone’s daughter asserted that casting another fine-featured, light-skinned woman simply reinforced the anti-black beauty standards Nina stood in defiance of.
 
A few seconds into this interview, I heard Nina Simone defend conservative Republican pervert and all-around dirtbag Clarence Thomas. Honestly, after that, I didn’t think there was anything else she could say that would shock me. But I was quickly taken aback by her response to the final question. The interviewer asks Simone (in French) if she sometimes has regrets of not pursuing a career in classical piano. Nina, who attended Juilliard, and was normally so confident and poised, breaks down. Her voice cracking, she admits quite frankly that she wishes she had become the first black classic pianist, and that she believes her unhappiness stems from the lack of that achievement.

It’s an incredibly vulnerable moment. Simone openly longs for a life that, in all honesty, would have reached far fewer people than the one she actually lived. She was notoriously dismissive of pop music, and openly maintained that classical music was a higher art form- a claim that ironically lead many to accuse her of adopting white artistic standards. It’s both heartbreaking and unfathomable to think that one of the most dynamic voices of black liberation, the woman who wrote “Mississippi Goddam” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” could yearn for any other legacy.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Nina Simone’s 1976 ‘Live At Montreux’ full concert!
01.25.2013
06:09 am

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Music

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone
 
One of the greatest performers of all time, Nina Simone’s live recordings are best heard (and watched) in their entirety. When the whole thing goes up on YouTube, you have no excuse not to!

Her body language is unbelievable, as are her interactions with the crowd. The songs meld in and out of spoken word, her soliloquy sometimes outright antagonizing the audience (“I started to write a song about it, but I decided you weren’t worthy”). This concert also has her famous commentary on Janis Joplin, (“She got hooked into a feeling. And she played to corpses. Know what I mean?”)
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Elevate your soul and listen to Nina Simone singing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’
03.04.2012
01:10 am

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Leonard Cohen
Nina Simone
Suzanne


 
Oh what a lovely and unique take on the Leonard Cohen classic.

Nina Simone takes “Suzanne” into new and glorious places, pulling emotions from the song that only the high priestess of soul could summon forth.

Rome 1969
 

 
Thanks Eric Guyot

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Happy birthday Nina Simone
02.21.2012
06:03 pm

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Music

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jazz
Nina Simone
Happy Birthday
Montreux


 
Nina Simone was born 79 years ago today, on February 21st 1933. Next year will mark the tenth anniversary of her passing, but for now let’s remember one of the greatest artists of the last century with her jaw-dropping performance of Morris Albert’s “Feelings” from her controversial set at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. Nina looks stoned here, and apparently she didn’t feel the crowd at this show were reacting appropriatley, explaining some of the tense spoken word interuptions. Still, if any doubts exist about Nina Simone’s skill or talent, watch this clip then tell me she is not one of the great artists of modern times:

Nina Simone “Feelings” Live at Montreux Jazz Festival, 1976
 

 
Thanks to Norn Cutson

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Mahalia Jackson!

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The legendary Gospel singer and Civil Rights activist, Mahalia Jackson was born 100 years ago today.

In a career that spanned 6 decades from 1927-1971, Jackson recorded over 30 albums, appeared in numerous films and was once described by Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”.

With her rich contralto voice, Jackson was hailed as the “Queen of Gospel”, and her influence crossed musical genres from Rock to Pop, Jazz to Blues, and influenced Elvis Presley, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.
 

 
More from Mahalia, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Nina Simone: in the name of freedom

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Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born 77 years ago today in the tiny town of Tryon, North Carolina. As Nina Simone, she’d go on to become the most powerful singer/songwriter of the Civil Rights era, blending the rawest aspects of jazz, blues, soul, and gospel into a unique style that buoyed her message of liberation.

As a generation of despots falls in the Middle East and people confront the forces of greed in Wisconsin, it seems apropos to recall what Simone bestowed on the world…
 

 
After the jump: Simone repossesses the Beatles’ “Revolution” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in the name of avant-garde freedom blues…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Jazz lives! Thank you, Billy Taylor

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Pianist Billy Taylor died yesterday at age 89, leaving a lasting legacy as America’s consummate jazz advocate.

Soon after getting his degree in Music Education, the Washington D.C.-raised Taylor became the house pianist at New York’s legendary Birdland, where he stayed throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s, playing with Bird, Dizzy and Miles and solidifying his role as a fixture and statesman in the city’s jazz scene.

But Taylor is perhaps best known as this country’s premier jazz educator, among the first to declare jazz “America’s classical music.” His long-running Jazzmobile project has produced concerts and educational programs throughout the American Eastern seaboard for 45 years.

Taylor was also the first to bring jazz thought and theory to mainstream American radio and TV. He was the jazz correspondent on CBS News Sunday Morning and on NPR.

But before all that, as the McCarthy era faded and Jim Crow was on its last gasp, Taylor was music director on an NBC show called The Subject is Jazz, which ran in 1958.
 

 
After the jump: Watch Nina Simone sing the Taylor-penned Civil Rights movement anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Black Woodstock 1969

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While hippies enjoyed “three days of peace and love” in Woodstock, another equally important music festival was staged in Harlem. What’s become known as Black Woodstock was a series of concerts, held at 3pm on Sundays, at Mount Morris Park, between 29 June and the 24 August, 1969. The Festival was headlined by B.B. King, The Staples Singers, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone and attended by over 100,000 concert-goers.

The concerts came soon after the Watts Riots, and the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.  At the time, the local NAACP chairman likened Harlem at the time to the vigilante Old West. The NYPD refused to provide security for the Festival, which was provided instead by the Black Panthers, some of whom had been indicted of a bombing campaign across Manhattan.

Black Woodstock was a mix of religious gathering, rock concert and civil rights rally, as the black community was encouraged to take power into its own hands, most notably when Reverend Roebuck Staples, of the Staple Singers, injected a sermon into his performance:

“You’d go for a job and you wouldn’t get it. And you know the reason why. But now you’ve got an education. We can demand what we want. Isn’t that right? So go to school, children, and learn all you can. And who knows? There’s been a change and you may be President of the United States one day.”

The Harlem Festival was filmed by television producer, Hal Tulchin, who hoped to sell the footage to the networks. None of the networks were interested, which says much about the politics of the time, and the fifty hours of filmed material has since been kept under lock and key. The odd snippet has been sneaked on to You Tube, and Nina Simone licensed film of her performance for a DVD release, but why the whole concert has never been released or even shown on TV is a damning indictment on America’s media. As Alan McGee asked last year

Why is Black Woodstock still sitting in the vaults? For me, this is not just a concert, but a valid historical document capturing the height of the black power movement, positivism and the tension within their community. I remember a poignant Simone quote from 1997 when asked why she left the US: “I left because I didn’t feel that black people were going to get their due, and I still don’t.” It’s hard to disagree with her when a cultural event as significant as Black Woodstock has been gathering dust in a vault for over forty years.

 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment