I had one of those mothers that thought she was one of them special type Negroes, which is to say that she delighted in knowing and doing more than those she considered “common” folk.
This had its pros and cons, but one of the pros was that I grew up with Nina Simone.
I knew “Four Women” early, and I’m positively shocked that it won’t be included in the upcoming biopic Nina, which is already being panned because Zoe Saldana’s barely brown-skinned ass has been cast to play Miss Simone.
Whatever with the casting, doing a Nina Simone movie without including “Four Women” is like doing a Beatles movie without a version of “Come Together“.
Or a Marvin Gaye movie with no “What’s Going On“.
And I remember driving back from my illustrious HBCU one time way back in the days when Frankie Crocker was still alive and on the radio, and right as we hit the part of the Jersey Turnpike where you can first see Manhattan off to your right, Frankie threw on “My Baby Just Cares for Me“.
It was surreal.
It was like one of those scenes in a movie when the music blends with the action perfectly.
And being lazy like I was, am, and will die being, when I decided that it was time to really get into Ms. Simone’s catalog, I didn’t go album-for-album but instead copped – you guessed it – her greatest hits.
And this held me down for years.
Then genius of Ms. Simone, if we had to limit it to one thing and therefore exclude the empathetic power of her voice of the virtuosity of her work as a pianist, is that while we normally expect artists to use their platform to also engage in political activism, one got the feeling that Ms. Simone might just be a political activist that expressed her commitment through art.
“Strange Fruit“, “Mississippi Goddam“, “Why (The King of Love is Dead)” are all so overtly engaged in the issue of Civil Rights that they make even an incendiary incitement to riot like “Dancing in the Street” seem tame by comparison.
Then, of course, there was the issue of Ms. Simone’s looks and how they affected her psyche or vice versa.
Personally, I’m the wrong person to consult on that issue.
The absolute last thing I notice on a woman is her face and if she has both eyes and a nose and a mouth, it’s likely I’ll be ok.
Plus, I happen to prefer dark-skinned girls so again, I’m fucked up.
But you can say that Ms. Simone was striking.
Her blackness and features, if a detraction from what are certainly Western standards of beauty, were certainly a plus when weighed for authenticity.
Sadly, what perhaps established Ms. Simone’s greatness most concretely was her uniqueness.
As many as profess extreme love and undying passion for her work – and they are legion – you almost never hear anybody refer to her as their favorite singer.
Even I claim to love her yet she didn’t even make my 10 Greatest Female Singers list.
Still, Ms. Simone’s a mandatory cog in both the arts and the rights movements.
Picture us without her: dumber, less cultured and a lot less free.