Life is filled with diverting roads...

and I usually take the one less traveled.


Augusta, Georgia, USA
January 21
A chef by trade, but a human by birth. __________I am also a political junkie. I watch all the “talking head” cable programs religiously. Agreeing & disagreeing with the comments by the various pundits. Not shy about emailing my comments to them, either. I am a huge fan of Joan Walsh. She is one of the few that will stand her ground and discuss the issues, not just the 30 second sound bites. I am formerly from Ridgefield, CT


AUGUST 17, 2009 5:38PM

Nina Simone: She did it her way!

Rate: 18 Flag


I first heard Nina Simone back in the summer of 1979, while living in Iron Station, NC – a small crossroads of a place with no stoplights and only two stop signs. One afternoon while relaxing and listening to the radio; I came across a version of My May, made famous by Frank Sinatra; but this was not Frank – it was a voice of a songstress which I later learned, was Nina Simone. Below is the instrumental arrangement of My Way that I heard that day and as you will see, it is like no other you have ever heard… listen to the tempo doubled on bongos. 

Nina Simone - My Way


Nina, was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina (not more than 60 miles from Iron Station) as the sixth of seven children in a poor family. The child prodigy played piano at the age of four. With the help of her music teacher, who set up the "Eunice Waymon Fund", she could continue her general and musical education. She studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York. To help support her family financially, she started working as an accompanist. In the summer of 1954 she took a job in an Irish bar in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The bar owner told her she had to sing as well. Without having time to realize what was happening, Eunice Waymon, who was trained to become a classical pianist, stepped into show business. She changed her name into Nina ("little one") Simone ("from the French actress Simone Signoret").


In the late 50's Nina Simone recorded her first tracks for the Bethlehem label. These are still remarkable displays of her talents as a pianist, singer, arranger and composer. Songs as Plain Gold Ring, Don't Smoke In Bed and Little Girl Blue soon became standards in her repertoire.


One song, I Loves You, Porgy, from the opera "Porgy and Bess", became a hit and the nightclub singer became a star, performing at Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival. Even from the beginning of her career on, her repertoire included jazz standards, gospel and spirituals, classical music, folk songs of diverse origin, blues, pop, songs from musicals and opera, African chants as well as her own compositions.


Nina Simone - I Love You Porgy 


Combining Bachian counterpoint, the improvisational approach of jazz and the modulations of the blues, her talent could no longer be ignored. Other characteristics of the Simone art are: her original timing, the way she uses silence as a musical element and her often understated live act, sitting at the piano and advancing the mood and climate of her songs by a few chords.


Sometimes her voice changes from dark and raw to soft and sweet. She pauses, shouts, repeats, whispers and moans. Sometimes piano, voice and gestures seem to be separate elements, then, at once, they meet. Add to this all the way she puts her spell on an audience, and you have some of the elements that make Nina Simone into a unique artist.


Nina was called "High Priestess of Soul" and was respected by fans and critics as a mysterious, almost religious figure; she was often misunderstood as well. When she wrote Four Women in 1966, a bitter lament of four black women whose circumstances and outlook are related to subtle gradations in skin color, the song was banned on Philadelphia and New York radio stations because "it was insulting to black people…"


The High Priestess would walk different paths to find the adequate music to spread her message. Her first RCA album, "Nina Simone Sings The Blues", includes her own I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Do I Move You, a haunting version of My Man's Gone Now (again from "Porgy & Bess") and the protest song Backlash Blues, based on a poem written for her by Langston Hughes.

Nina Simone - Backlash Blues


Her repertoire includes more Civil Rights songs: Why? The King of Love is Dead, capturing the tragedy of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Brown Baby, Images (based on a Waring Cuney poem), Go Limp, Old Jim Crow, … One song, To be Young, Gifted and Black, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's play with the same title, became the black national anthem in the USA.


She surprised even her most devoted fans with an album on which she sings and plays alone. "Nina Simone And Piano!” an introspective collection of songs about reincarnation, death, loneliness and love, is still a highlight in her recording career.


Her gift to give new and deeper dimensions to songs resulted in remarkable versions of Ain't Got No / I Got Life (from the musical "Hair"), Leonard Colhen's Suzanne, Bee Gees songs as To Love Somebody, the classic My Way done in a tempo doubled on bongos, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and four other Bob Dylan songs. This gift culminated on her record "Emergency Ward": she set up an atmosphere that left no illusions and no escape, performing two long versions of George Harrison songs: My Sweet Lord (to which she added a David Nelson poem, Today is a Killer) and Isn't it a Pity.


Nina Simone - Ain't got no(i got life) - original version 


Together with her regular accompanists Lepoldo Fleming (percussion), Tony Jones (bass), Paul Robinson (drums), Xavier Collados (keyboards) and her musical director Al Schackman (guitar), she still excites audiences all over the world. At the Barbican Theatre in London in 1997 she sang Every Time I Feel The Spirit as a tribute to one of America's first and foremost leaders in the cause of Civil Rights, peace and brotherhood, singer and actor Paul Robeson. More spirituals and "blood songs" would follow: Reached Down And Got My Soul, The Blood Done Change My Name and When I See The Blood.


Nina was the highlight of the Nice Jazz Festival in France in 1997, the Thessalonica Jazz Festival in Greece in 1998. At the Guinness Blues Festival in Dublin, Ireland in 1999 her daughter, Lisa Celeste, performing as "Simone", sang a few duets with her mother. Simone has toured the world, sung with Latin superstar Rafael, participated in two Disney theatre workshops, playing the title role in Aida and Nala in The Lion King. She is currently working on her upcoming debut album, "Simone Superstar".


On July 24, 1998 Nina Simone was a special guest at Nelson Mandela's 80th Birthday Party. On October 7, 1999 she received a Lifetime Achievement in Music Award in Dublin.


In 2000 she received Honorary Citizenship to Atlanta, the Diamond Award for Excellence in Music from the Association of African American Music in Philadelphia and the Honorable Musketeer Award from the Compagnie des Mousquetaires d'Armagnac in France (August 7).


Nina Simone passed away after a long illness at her home in her villa in Carry-le-Rouet (South of France) on April 21, 2003. As she had wished, her ashes were spread in different African countries.


The Diva, who was, as well, an Honorary Doctor in Music and Humanities, has an unrivalled legendary status as one of the very last Griots (a storyteller in western Africa who perpetuates the oral tradition and history of a village). She is and will forever be the ultimate songstress and storyteller of our times.

Nina Simone - I put a spell on you

Nina, you did put a spell on me and I am a grateful guy,
because you did.

Au revoir ma princesse d'âme

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Oh, I love, love, love her music! Nina's version of "I Loves You Porgy" is the ultimate! "Feeling Good" is great and her sassy "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl" is just about perfect. Great videos and I will be watching them a couple of times more. Thanks, George!
This made my day. I hate August. I hate the hot rain. I LOVE Nina.
And you did her justice my friend.

Wonderful, wonderful piece.
did she die today?
come ye is an amazing and underrated song
one of a kind
there is footage of her wasted at the piano cursing at the audience in french - i saw it years ago but remains in my memory as one of my favorite live performances.
she will be missed
Thank you for this - Nina Simone was a genius and I can't get enough of her music!
She's got an incredible voice, doesn't she?

My wife and I saw Porgy and Bess as a stage play at the old Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA when we lived there. I loved that play.
sorry wasn't reading carefully - i thought she had passed away already but saw this and assumed...
I love Nina Simone so much. The entire "Nina Simone's Finest Hour" album changed my life. Her voice, her personality, and that piano haunt me with every off-beat note. How I wish I could see her live.
Great post George. I remember playing Nina Simone in my dorm room. Her voice was so sexy and dark. As you may remember, I wrote a post about meeting Odetta; she and Nina Simone were both exceptional singers who lasted for generations as true icons. And yet so many have never heard of either or them, or heard their thrilling voices. Thanks for this and for sharing her.
I first heard her name in the movie "Point of No Return," where Bridget Fonda's character demands Nina Simone's music. Hadn't realized how much I missed listening to Nina, until you reminded me with this post. Note to self: Get some Nina Simone!!!
Thanks to all for stopping by and remembering Nina with me. Nina is one singer that truly speaks to me – body & soul.
Such a cool artist who knew how to 'phrase.' Her Backlash Blues is still relevant today. Awesome.
Hands down, this woman put the sexy into music.
George, one of the beauties of the internet is being able to go to sites like YouTube and find the recordings/videos of great performers. Nina Simone is a celebrated name among female vocalists and it's great to see your post on her along with the many fans' comments. I love to read lyrics (as well as hear them) and I tracked down "My Way" to add to the conversation here.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life thats full.
I've traveled each and evry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the bighway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!
Thanks John... they read as well as Nina sings them!
O’Really… you are so right about that!

Chuck… good music & its message lives forever
Love me or Live me was the 1st Nina Simone song I heard. My kids and I were in the car marveling to the piano:

She's just the best!

Thanks, George, Nina's Black Gold album is my favourite. I think she passed the musical torch to Joan Armatrading.
W-a-P... thanks for the link, which is one of her best. She was a grand musician.
The first time I ever heard her was through the movie soundtrack natural born killers. I put a spell on you rocked my world.
She wasn't on that soundtrack, but I must have found the real one through the cover.
What a woman... musician, voice!
Must be a Nina day... I left the lyrics of an obscure song of hers, that I first heard in 1966, "High Flyin' Bird," in a comment on Stephen McGuire's post on Appalachian coal mining practices that are causing wide-spread destruction of the mountains. Her voice was uniquely, soulfully smokey, but her choices and renditions of material was deeply profound.
Hazel… thanks for stopping by and introducing me to Joan Armatrading. I just listened to a few songs on YouTube – I think you are spot on about Nina passing the torch – Joan has the same deep resonant in her voice.

Hy-Julie – Thanks. Nina also had a song in Thomas Crown Affair called ‘Sinnerman’ – it was the scene in the Met Museum, when they were stealing the painting and hundreds of guys in bowler hats were walking in every direction to confuse the police. Her voice & style is perfect for film soundtracks, because it sets the mood, so well.

trig…. You said it all – What a woman!

Mothership… Thanks, I’ll check it out