Gambia: Jazz Appreciation – Women in Jazz with Nina Simone

Although jazz history is predominantly dominated by the exploits of male jazz musicians, the role of women in jazz is just as important as that of their male counterparts. It is therefore interesting to note that women in jazz have played all instruments in all styles and have undertaken the same aesthetic and technical developments as their male counterparts. Yet, with the exception of female singers and some pianists, women are invariably seen as a new breed. They are generally marketed as nascent and consumed as curiosities, but despite their perpetually unprecedented aura, female jazz musicians have a history. The history of early music from the roots of jazz is rich in the active participation of African American women in spirituals, gospel and blues. Piano music has always been considered appropriate and desirable for women, and many female pianists and songwriters participated in the ragtime craze of the early 1900s. Although social expectations regarding what women should and could have an impact on their working conditions, their reception and their opportunities, jazz musicians have proven themselves repeatedly for more than a century. One of the most talented but controversial jazz musicians of our time is a woman known for her revolutionary stance in the fight for civil rights and justice while demonstrating her pride in being black.

Her birth name is Eunice Kathleen Waymon; she was born in Tryon, North Carolina, United States, February 21, 1933. Better known by her stage name Nina Simone, she was an American singer, songwriter, arranger, and civil rights activist. She started playing the piano at the age of three and aspired to be a classical pianist early on, working in a wide range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, soul, R&B, gospel and pop. Nina has a distinctive, very original and varied style, consisting of a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music. She was greatly influenced by classical composer Bach and injected so much of her classical experience into her music to give it more depth and quality. She always felt that pop music was inferior to the classics and was very particular with her choice of material for the job during her career.

Nina played her first concert when she was twelve. This performance was a classical recital where she played the piano in front of a mixed audience. She later claimed that during this performance, her parents who were in the front row were forced to move to the back of the room to make room for white people. Nina then refused to play until her parents were sent back to the front lines. This incident heralded the start of his involvement in the civil rights movement. After graduating from high school, Nina tried to enroll in the Curtis Institute of Music, but was rejected because she was black. She then moved to the Julliard School of Music in New York City where she continued her education and focus on classical music techniques.

It was not easy going to this private institution as she did not have a scholarship, so in order to finance her studies, she performed every week at the Midtown Bar and Grill in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She played the piano and sang in this club and many other small clubs in the area, and in 1954 she adopted the stage name – Nina Simone. During this period in 1958, she recorded a single performance of “I love You Porgy” by George Gershwin which had previously been recorded by Billie Holiday who was one of her favorite singers. This recording became a hit and a Billboard Top 40 hit and was quickly followed by her debut album on Bethlehem Records – “Little Girl Blue”.

After the success of “Little Girl Blue”, Nina landed a contract with a larger company, Colpix Records. The success of “Little Girl Blue” with Bethlehem Records was bittersweet as she was only paid $ 3,000 for the recording session and was unable to financially benefit from millions of royalties after the re-release of the same. song in the 1980s under the name “My Baby Just Take Care of Me”. Her contract with Colpix was different and more rewarding, giving Nina complete creative control, including which material to record. A series of studio and live albums will follow, and she performs mainly popular music in order to earn money and further her education in classical music. She was indifferent to having a recording contract and maintained that attitude for most of her career.

In 1961, Nina married New York City Police detective Andrew Stroud, who later became her manager. The sixties were an era of civil rights politics, and America was undergoing a radical transformation. In 1964, she changed record company, moving from the American Colpix to the Dutch Phillips. It gave him a little more freedom and brought about a change in the content of his recordings. Nina had always included songs that drew on her African American origins in her repertoire, and songs such as “Brown Baby” and “Zungo” were featured on her album “Nina at the Village Gate”. However, on her debut album with Phillips, she first addressed racial inequality in the United States with the song “Mississippi Goddam”. It was his response to the murder of civil rights activist Medger Evers and the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama. The disc was released as a single but also boycotted in some southern states. Civil rights messages have become the norm in her recordings and live performances and she has spoken at numerous civil rights meetings such as the Selma March in Montgomery demanding equal rights for African Americans. .

Nina was a big fan of Billie Holiday and featured Holiday’s song “Strange Fruits” on the cover of her 1965 album “Pastel Blues”. The song “Strange Fruits” is about the lynching of black men in the Southern Hemisphere. United States. States, and was taken from a poem by W. Cuney. Nina will change record company again and, in 1967, she signs with RCA Victor Records. Her debut album with RCA released the same year under the title “Nina Sings the Blues” featured a song written by her friend Langston Hughes, the playwright and author. The song was called “Backlash Blues” and on another album “Silk and Soul” released around the same time; she would record some of Billy Taylor’s music. In 1968, she recorded the album “Nuff Said” which contained live recordings made three days after the murder of Martin Luther King. The whole performance was dedicated to King in a song called “Why (The King of Love is Dead)” which was written by Gene Taylor, Nina’s bassist.

In 1970, Nina worked with producer Weldon Irwine and turned Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished piece into a civil rights song. The song titled “To Be Young Gifted and Black” was performed live and recorded on her album “Black Gold”. A studio recording was subsequently released as a single, and performances of the song were recorded by Aretha Franklin and the late Danny Harthaway. A few months after the release of ‘Black Gold’, Nina left the United States and settled on the Caribbean island of Barbados. She went to Barbados on her own, leaving her husband and manager behind. There was a lack of communication or poor communication between the two, and that, added to the fact that Nina left her wedding ring behind, convinced her husband who was also her manager that she wanted a divorce. This incident was very crucial in Nina’s career because her financial records were not given the necessary attention, and when she finally returned to the United States, she learned that there was an arrest warrant. against her for unpaid taxes. She was forced to return to Barbados where she stayed for a few years until her friend and fellow musician, Miriam Makeba, convinced her to move to Liberia. Nina remained in Liberia for a brief period and then moved to Switzerland and the Netherlands, before settling permanently in France in 1992.

Nina recorded her last album – “A Single Woman” in 1993 while living in the south of France. She bought a house in Carry-Le-Rouet near Aix-en-Provence and remained there until her death in 2003. Her funeral was attended by Miriam Makeba, Patti Labelle, poet Sonia Sanchez and the actor Ossie Davis. She was cremated according to her wish, and her ashes scattered in several African countries.

Nina Simone lived and died as a proud black woman.

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