Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jul-Aug Contents 92 Rhythms
in a rush of blood to the head late last year i signed up
for a trial month to the australian version of netflix
and promptly discovered there was almost nothing i
wanted to watch! there were numerous complaints
that we were only getting a fraction of the content
available to usa subscribers but now, six months
later, that has obviously changed for the better.
Not having worked out how to cancel my subscription, I
recently found this acclaimed documentary online (along
with some other excellent music ones commissioned
by the network) which suddenly makes the cheap
subscription worthwhile. (In much the same way that
some might claim that it is only the AFL channel makes
Foxtel worth it!) No doubt I will be sourcing more recent
releases here rather than waiting for the DVD release
(which may or may not happen in Australia).
I was keen to see what Happened miss Simone? because
not only does it spotlight one of the most influential
singers and songwriters of all time but because I had read
Alan Light’s book of the same title. This film had also
been nominated for an oscar this year (the winner was
Amy, another gruelling personal story).
The time seems right for a Nina Simone revival.
Rhiannon Giddens’ album Tomorrow Is my Turn featured
two songs performed by Simone. The recent focus on
race relations in America certainly brings the spotlight
onto this civil rights campaigner and Giddens spoke
in concert of how she had been studying African slave
narratives that had inspired her current song writing.
In fact, I spoke to Giddens during her tour earlier this
year and suggested that there could be an alternative
history of American music and she retorted, correctly,
that it would actually be the true history. Certainly, after
you watch this film you might be surprised that Simone
is not much better known to the general public. If you
have not previously known much of her story, then your
surprise could turn to astonishment. Simone’s presence
In the opening scene of this marvellous film Simone
stands in silence at a piano on stage taking in the
applause, staring into the distance and not saying a word.
It seems to last for hours and the tension builds before
she finally sits at her piano and says, “Good evening”. The
Director Liz Garbus employs the usual talking-head
comments, including very revealing ones from Simone’s
daughter. There are also long concert performances that
are absolutely mesmerising. (I regret that I never saw her
in performance). Simone had an interesting relationship
with her audience and would not hesitate to tell someone
to sit down or shut up – or both. Trained as a classical
pianist from childhood she demanded attention.
Born Eunice waymon in North Carolina in 1933, Simone
had high hopes for a career in classical music. Tutored
by a teacher from literally the other side of the tracks she
practised seven or eight hours a day and, later, while she
attended Juilliard for a while she was denied admission
to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Simone blamed
racism for this rejection and when you see her playing
later in her life, with an impeccable technique even on
complex songs, you can easily understand why she would
have felt that way.
Eunice waymon became Nina Simone when she got work
performing in a bar in Atlantic City, playing standards
and popular songs of the day for hours on end. Her alter
ego was born so that people in her home town would
not know it was her. Soon she got a recording contract
and enjoyed her first hit ‘I Love You, Porgy’. There is
an amazing clip of her performing the song on Hugh
Hefner’s Playboy Penthouse TV show (which looks
entirely as outdated as it now sounds).
Eventually, Simone’s life plummeted into turmoil with
an abusive husband who became her manager. Not
surprisingly, she suffered from depression and an
inability to break free of her situation.
However, amidst this personal turmoil Simone truly
blossomed as a writer as she got involved in the civil
rights movement. If Billie Holiday’s rendition of ‘Strange
Fruit’ was one of the great social commentary songs of
the ‘30s and ‘40s, then Simone’s ‘mississippi Goddam’
(inspired by a church bombing that killed four young
girls) stands as an equal and remains one of the great
anthems of the 1960s.
Simone’s private life remained turbulent until her death
at the age of 70 in 2003. This powerful film only partially
answers the question as to what happened but, hopefully,
it will turn a few more people onto the wonder of Nina
Links Archive 2016 May-Jun 2016 Sept-Oct Navigation Previous Page Next Page