If you know me or follow me on social media, you know that I often have Nina Simone moments. Mood swings when only Nina Simone’s music will do. I’ve had more than a few of you ask, why Nina? What’s the obsession? It is usually a time when I am somber, mellow and reflective. Getting lost in Nina’s voice is effortless. It’s rich and complex. It warms me like a favorite blanket. Comforts me like a mother’s embrace. Carries me like a river. Today happens to be a Nina Simone kind of day.
One could argue that somber moments call for uplifting music. That’s not true in my case. For me, somber moments, reflective moments call for contemplative music. Nina Simone’s music, whether a heartfelt ballad or funky blues, is contemplative and it is so because her voice is seductive and hypnotic. Feeling somber? Listen to “My Man’s Gone Now” or “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and Nina will share the moment with you. She let’s you know that she indeed understands what you are going through.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933, Nina Simone is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated vocalist in jazz history. She didn’t have the technically flawless voice of Sarah Vaughan or the swing of Ella Fitzgerald. What she did posses was an uncanny ability to tell and sell a story. An ability rivaled only by Billie Holiday. As a musical griot, the High Priestess of Soul understood the pain of being misunderstood, unloved and uncomfortable and parlayed the bitterness of life into a song. On stage and through song, Nina Simone represented the pride and soul of a people.
Most music fans under a certain age today attribute the song “Feeling Good” to Michael Buble. There is no comparison, in my opinion, between the two. Buble’s performance is technically sound. There is no denying his talent as vocalist. But when Nina sings “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me” you understand the pain, the hurt and sorrow of an old world that makes the new world so much sweeter. The proclamation of freedom is immediately clear. Feeling good having risen from a place of misery. That song was successful because of Nina’s ability to sell the pain.
Nina is good company when I’m down. Nina makes the sweet moments sweeter. Nina puts me in touch with my own wretchedness. Makes me feel sexy… Makes me feel proud… Makes me feel soulful. And that is Why Nina.