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6 Reasons New Generations Must Listen to Nina Simone

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Nina Simone

Source: Wikipedia

1.  During the Civil Rights Movement, she wrote songs that expressed the anger, grief, and hope of black people.

My personal favorites are To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Revolution (Parts 1 and 2). To Be Young Gifted and Black was an anthem of the civil rights movement, but I consider it a personal anthem for myself now. Revolution is a fantastic musical representation of the defiance and chaos going on at the time.

2. “Four Women” is a song that black women of all shades and ages can connect to either personally or emotionally.

When I first heard this song, I was entranced by Simone’s voice and the raw lyrics. The song plays out like a stage performance, with Simone singing different parts. By the end of the song, Simone’s voice had me stunned.

3.  She was an eclectic artist that was hard to pin down.

She sang the blues and gospel, fused jazz and pop with classical, and even had one song with reggae influences. One of the first Nina Simone songs that I enjoyed was “Love Me or Leave Me“. Her piano playing was a pleasant surprise, especially when she switched from jazz to classical and then back. Another favorite of mine is “Little Girl Blue“.  I love Janis Joplin’s version, but Simone’s version is beautiful and soothing.


4.  She had great live performances where she improvised on piano and looked like a queen.

“I Love You Porgy”- Live 1960

“Mississippi Goddam”- Live 1965

“Work Song”- Live 1966

“Ain’t Got No… I Got Life Life”- Live 1969

5.  She has influenced rap, pop, and R&B musicians such as Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Talib Kweli,  and Lauryn Hill.

6.  She was a hardworking, outspoken, talented, and resilient spirit.

Very recently, I finished reading Simone’s autobiography I Put A Spell on You.  It is a tale of how she endured racism, physical and emotional abuse, alienation, and bi-polar disorder (which she wasn’t diagnosed for until after the events of the book). She endured all this and made music that moved people and inspired them to action. For that, she is amazing.







Movie Review: St. Louis Blues (1958)

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St. Louis Blues, 1958

Source: Wikipedia

Summary (Partly taken from IMDB): Will Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can’t stay away from the music of the streets and workers. Once he gives in to the lure of blues and jazz, Handy discovers a gift for songwriting and becomes an accompanist for the speakeasy singer Go Go Germaine. However, he must soon choose between his father’s wishes and his own.

My Review:  One of the best things about this film is its star-studded cast. Will Handy is played by musician Nat King Cole, Go Go Germaine by singer-actress Eartha Kitt, and Go Go’s husband by musician Cab Calloway. Other notable stars include gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, actresses Pearl Bailey and Ruby Dee, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Besides the cast, their performances are very memorable. Nat King Cole does a great job on playing the cornet, singing, and acting. Eartha Kitt’s character  is  sexy and assertive and Kitt plays the role well. In addition, Kitt’s singing is a lovely mix of angelic and soulful.  Furthermore, Pearl Bailey’s small singing role in the film is just as good as Mahalia Jackson’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s.

The only lackluster element of the film is the storyline. A fusion of the film The Jazz Singer and the life of the real W.C. Handy, it is nothing more than a way to incorporate some of the songs that Handy wrote. If you have seen The Jazz Singer or enough references to the film, then the storyline will be predictable.

Overall, the film is a fantastic tribute to the contributions and influence of W.C. Handy. If you enjoy blues, jazz, gospel, or love musicals, then I recommend this film.


Here is the trailer for St. Louis Blues



Musician Spotlight: Janis Joplin

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Janis Joplin

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t want to end this year without attempting to get some people my age hooked on late sixties singer Janis Joplin.

I decided to give her music a try a few months ago when I found myself looking for more soulful singers to listen to. I can’t remember the first Janis Joplin song I enjoyed. After listening to almost all her albums, it felt like all the emotion in her voice had blended into one howling note.

Her voice is raspy yet extremely powerful and soulful. While I didn’t like all of her songs, I admired the fact that Joplin could sing rock, blues, funk, soul, and country. Most of her live performances are great and some are better than the album version.

Combined together with the lyrics, her voice is deeply moving. While Joplin didn’t write all of the songs, her voice makes it sound like she did.

At the same time, songs that Joplin did write are touching because of how honest her voice and lyrics are. Some of my favorite songs are “Turtle Blues“, “Kosmic Blues” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” and “Cry Baby“.

Besides Joplin’s voice and lyrics, I related to who she was as a person.

According to a documentary on Joplin, she had a tough time during and after high school. At school, she was bullied for being overweight and she was considered an outcast for being artsy and liking black people.

Things didn’t seem to get better, even when she became famous. Not only was she insecure because of high school and numerous rejections, but she had to deal with the pressure that came from being a woman in rock n’ roll.

By the time she was about to create what would be her final album Pearl, she had created an alter-ego of the same name to go with it. I really liked her as Pearl; her outfit on the album’s cover looked cool.  Yet, Joplin seemed to smile only on the outside.

After learning that she passed away at the age of 27, I felt as sad as I did when I became a fan of Amy Winehouse. Just like with Winehouse’s music, I wished Joplin could have put out more albums before she passed.

I love Janis Joplin’s music just as much as I love Amy Winehouse’s music. I admire Joplin pouring  her heart and soul into her music and for showing that women without the ideal image can be successful.

Written by Serena Zola

December 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

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