Nina Simone’s music is urgent, timeless and revolutionary. She seamlessly blended folk, gospel, classical, blues and soul. And the indomitable spirit that shines through songs like “Four Women” and her painstaking version of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” is that of a strong black woman who is both broken and unbreakable.
However, the singer, pianist, and activist once said she rejected her music being labeled as jazz, saying, “Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.”
So how would Miss Simone feel about being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
“Nina could sing anything, period,” Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone when the magazine named Nina Simone one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
As Vanity Fair points out, since her death in 2003 at age 70, there have been many attempts to capture the essence of Simone on screen—most notably the brilliant documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, released on Netflix in 2015 with the support of her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
A year later, in 2016, Nina, starring Zoe Saldana as Simone, was given a limited release in theaters. Simone’s estate refused to endorse the film, and Kelly expressed her disapproval of Saldana’s casting saying, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice.”
Songs like “Mississippi Goddamn,” Old Jim Crow” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” provided a soundtrack for the civil rights and black power movements and Simone’s fearlessness as an artist and activist has inspired a younger generation of singer-songwriters, including Lauryn Hill, Kanye West (who has frequently sampled her work), John Legend, Common, and Alicia Keys, who once wrote that “she made me want to live life, learn and experience it earnestly and use my voice to say SOMETHING!”
The 33rd annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Cleveland.