I wanted to say something like the incomparable Nina Simone, but that felt so pretentious. I mean it is true; who the hell is like Nina Simone? But I really just feel like calling her what she was, a BAD ASS.
I mean, she is the premiere definition of a #ProfessionalBlackGirl. Like, she was all unapologetic about her blackness, her womanness, her selfness and Biggie’s lyrics keep on running through my mind, “Heart throb never, Black and ugly as ever.” Now, I know that may seem disrespectful but bear with me.
Nina Simone is not what most people would call classically beautiful . She was dark skinned with very African features and she was a sultry, bossy, some say vulgar, temperamental artist.
She began her career in music like most Black folks, in the church in North Carolina. As a minister’s kid, church songs and church spirit was in her blood. She eventually moved from gospel music to classical music, studied at Juliard for a summer and was on track to study music when, as she determined it, racism reared it’s consistently ugly head and deterred her hopes.
So, like most Black folks, Simone had to attend the school of hard knocks and ended up paying for private lessons by singing in Jazz bars.
Simone enjoyed success during the late 50s and early 60s, singing pop music and jazzy tunes, but her heart was still set on conquering the classical music world. So though she had a record deal that paid her well, she gave no fux about that. She was real good at being indifferent.
And then, during the turbulent times of the 60s, with a record label change that offered her more freedom, Simone suffocating under the weight of the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing 4 little girls, she released Mississippi Goddam.
Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddamn
This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet
Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last
Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer
Simone and her music was one of the many soundtracks of this decade and she suffered for it, but never retreated. In September 1970, frustrated, disgusted and just plain ole tired of Amerikkka and escaping from an abusive marriage to her manager, Simone left the US and moved to Barbados.When she attempted to return to America, there was a warrant out for her arrest for unpaid taxes.
Yall know uncle Sam don’t play with his money, when it comes to Black folk. Check Marcus Garvey on that one. But Simone just returned back to Barbados and eventually moved to Europe like so many artists during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
In the late 80s, Simone was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, she then suffered from Breast Cancer and eventually passed away in 2003. She was cremated and her ashes spread across many African nations, LIKE A BOSS!
Simone was an amazing artist, a fierce activist, and a tormented soul, like most creative people. She had loved and lost and loved and lost again. One of my favorite words is “lover” and she had many lovers. And one of my favorite quotes from her is below:
So as we round out Women’s History Month, aka Divine Feminine Month, I honor Ms. Badass Nina Simone. And I can’t help but wonder how many Nina Simone’s we have in our classrooms, like her, because they are musicians, or activists, or not “classically beautiful” yet stunningly engaging. When Simone was in the room, you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. You wanna talk about #BlackGirlMagic.
Nina Simone referred to herself as a rich Black Bitch, like I said earlier, reminiscent of Biggie’s defiance. There’s something real special about being a black artist that is unaccepted because you can’t be mistaken for anything other than black and then you dare to be confident and defiant. You dare not to hide in the shadows and cower in the face of whiteness or lightness.
Rick Ross just released his newest album, Rather you than me, and he follows in Nina Simone’s defiance and most hip hop artists do. As I listened to his album and her music I realize how integral black music is to the psyche of black people, especially the young. Because it is through music that the confidence is built to fight white supremacy and patriarchy, to fight mainstream America’s obsession with forcing Black people into believing like they are inferior. Music may be the only place where Black humanity lives, and has always consistently lived. That’s why it is very important for any culturally responsive teacher to center music in their classrooms, curriculum and instruction. And not just the music you love and appreciate, but allow students to introduce their music. Teach them about Nina and let them teach you about Rosay. I promise you, both of you will be fed through this exchange.
SB: Simone was not a fan of hip hop, but that’s ok.
Wait, did I just engage in patriarchy because I went from Nina Simone to Rick Ross? Hmmmph, well let me say this; Solange and Bad Gyal Rih Rih are also following in and blazing new footsteps in the image of Ms. Simone. Both of their last albums were EVERY bit of FREEDOM one could think of.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this dope Nina Simone mix below as we thug it out on a Thursday and that you will consider ways to engage your students with music as text, through using Ms. Nina Simone. I mean, if you just play her for the rest of the week or month, that’s a start, right?
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