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Music / Nina Simone

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"Whatever happens, just keep your eyes on me."

My baby don't care for shows,
My baby don't care for clothes,
My baby just cares for me.
— "My Baby Just Cares For Me"

Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known by her stage name Nina Simone, (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. She worked in a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.

Her musical style arose from a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music, in particular with influences from her first inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied with her expressive jazz-like singing in her characteristic contralto voice. She injected her classical background into her music as much as possible to give it more depth and quality, as she felt that pop music was inferior to classical.

Her intuitive grasp on the audience–performer relationship was gained from a unique background of playing piano accompaniment for church revivals and sermons regularly from the early age of six years old.

Nina Simone provides examples of:

  • But Not Too Black: "Four Women" is about this trope as it applies to beauty standards applied to black women in America, showing how each woman is treated on the basis of their skin tone.
  • Child Prodigy: She began playing the piano at the age of three and was providing accompaniment to her church by the age of six. Her concert debut was at the age of twelve.
  • Classical Music: Nina's first love. She trained to be a classical pianist from an early age.
  • Cover Version: A lot of the songs in her discography are this.
  • Epic Rocking: Her songs could be very long at times. Her cover of George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" is more than eleven minutes long, for instance. Even longer, and from the same album, is her medley of Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and David Nelson's poem "Today Is a Killer", which is eighteen and a half minutes long. That album, Emergency Ward!, unsurprisingly only contained three tracks on the vinyl release (some CD reissues add a fourth).
  • The First Cut Is the Deepest: A non-romantic example. Her rejection from the Curtis Institute may have began her decent into depression and numbness. To be fair, she has studied for years with a long-term goal only for it to be shot down when the opportunity came. Though it also may have contributednote  to her spiritual awakening in the Civil Rights Movement, and more defiant and outspoken behavior.
  • Genre-Busting: She called her style "Black classical."
  • Genre Mashup: As mentioned above, her music has elements of R&B, soul, classical, jazz, blues, gospel, folk, and pop. She doesn't clearly belong to any one genre.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: She was noted for having quite a temper, at times violent, likely due to her bipolar disorder.
  • Improv: A core element of her performances; she was noted for rarely if ever performing the same song the same way twice. Unusually for this trope, however, her improv was usually based in classical music techniques; it's most commonly associated with jazz, although jazz was a major element of her musical style as well.
  • Mood-Swinger: Her at-times violent mood swings were legendary, and indeed she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1980s (though this was kept quiet).
  • Obsession Song: "I Put a Spell on You", her sultry cover.
  • Protest Song: She wrote and covered a few. "Mississippi Goddam", composed in response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the 16 Street Baptist Church Burning, is probably the best known of her original material; "Strange Fruit", while possibly more strongly associated with Billie Holiday, is a well known example from Simone's cover repertoire. Sometimes she would add protest song themes to songs she covered as well; George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" was primarily directed at the breakup of The Beatles (though it could be considered to have applicability to a wide range of other concepts), but Simone added lines addressing injustice and materialism that turned it into a clearer example of this trope.
  • Recognizable by Sound: Her voice is very distinctive; gravelly, yet sultry.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Nina believed fervently in violent revolution for Black America, but she used her music as a way of fighting back instead.
  • Scatting: Done prominently in "I Put a Spell on You" and "Feeling Good"
  • Shown Their Work: She has a very clear understanding of Classical music, and it shows in her performances.
  • Signature Style: Nina has the tendency to play minim-tremolos, scales, and Bach-style fugal counterpoint. It's a part of her signature sound.
  • Technician Versus Performer: She is the Technician, what with her Classical training, perfectionism, and discipline in Czerny and Bach. But as she became "Nina" - crossing over to Blues, Folk, and Jazz - she was more of a Performer. It works either way considering her demeanor and how lively her nightclub shows were.