In undergrad, I discovered that most of my favorite songs by my favorite contemporary artists were remakes. Part of my attraction to an artist is the song itself along with admiration for his/her ability to sing. I felt duped. I began this search for originality. I bought any artist I considered, ‘old school’ at my age – Al Green, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder.
I discovered Nina Simone in the oddest place. I heard, “I Want A Little Sugar in My Bowl,” while watching Point of No Return, a movie about a female assassin. I chuckled at the lyrics and was curious about the voice behind the words. I hunted for the album. I found a Greatest hits CD in a little record store on Green Street. I listened intrigued by Simone’s ability to teach, as well as, entertain through song.
I first heard of a Nina Simone movie online. There was an internet uproar over the casting of Zoe Saldana as Simone is an authorized story of Simone’s life. That movie has yet to be released. “What Happened ,Miss Simone?” is the documentary over a decade in the making. It is the ‘truth’ Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone, wanted the world to see. I am not a fan of ‘biopics’ told without the approval of the family. It loses credibility in my eyes. It is no more than fan fiction. On the other hand, some decry family approved biopics as painting the subject’s life in rosy colors. “What Happened,Miss Simone?” is as raw and unapologetic as Miss Nina herself.
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” begins with a performance. It is only fitting as Nina Simone was an international performer known for her unique voice and classical piano. The story takes the viewer on an emotional progression. We grow with Nina as she goes from a little girl playing piano in church to her days at Julliard, her struggle from night club singer to international star. Then, there is the abusive marriage, the Civil Rights Movement, backlash from her activism, exodus to Liberia, resurgence in Europe, and through it all – the music. That is what I love about this story. There is so much history. Simone’s colleagues were Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes. Can you even imagine?
Throughout the documentary, there are excerpts of her diary that reveal her brilliance juxtaposed with her struggle with mental illness. This resonated with me as I lost a friend to mental illness. It is taboo in our culture and I was pleased to see that the writers did not shy away from revealing this about Simone.
Like Bridgette Fonda in Point of No Return, Simone was a cultural assassin. She challenged standards of beauty, the musical canon, and acceptable political activism of the time. It made her unique and beloved but it also cost her professionally.
I definitely recommend seeing “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, which is now streaming on Netflix.
Photo Source-Via Pinterest Never Say Good By courtesy article on Time.com