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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.







Live Performance Spotlight: “Geechy Joe” by Cab Calloway

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I haven’t done many live performance music video spotlights this year, so I will pick it up again now. As I mentioned during Black Music Month in May,  jazz musician Cab Calloway has become one of my favorite black musicians of the past. He was a charismatic performer with a big voice, smooth dance moves, and amazing scatting skills. Not to mention, a cool enough intellect to create his own slang dictionary known as The Hepster’s Dictionary.

This performance is my number one favorite Cab Calloway performance. Taken from my favorite blues and jazz film Stormy Weather, it is one of Cab Calloway’s most famous appearances. The moment he walks out on stage in his zoot suit, you know you are in for a treat.  Showcasing his vocal range, dance moves, and powerful stage presence, this is an iconic performance that everyone should watch.




Written by Serena Zola

August 9, 2014 at 4:07 PM

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: Amy Winehouse

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

On July 23, 2013, it will be the two-year anniversary of the death of singer Amy Winehouse. For me, someone who became a fan a few months ago, her death feels like it happened yesterday.  To become a fan of her and then realize you can never experience being a fan like those who listened to her before her death is a sad shock.

In fact, I’m still surprised that I became a fan of her music at all. Jazz, r &b, and soul aren’t exactly my favorite genres of music. These genres were actually up my dad’s alley. Sadly, it was my father’s death that caused me to look up her music. At the time, I needed to look up music for my father’s funeral service and Winehouse’s  was the first thing I thought of.

However, I mistakenly thought that the song “Valerie” was originally done by Amy Winehouse. The song had piqued my interest in 2011 when I saw Bruno Mars do an excellent tribute performance of the song to honor Winehouse. It took some snide comments about Winehouse on YouTube  and some research to see that Amy recorded a cover version of the song.

We ended up using piano music for my dad’s funeral. Nonetheless, Amy Winehouse still intrigued me. Her voice was so lovely and soulful, it made me melt.  Soon, I ended up listening to Frank and Back to Black, the two albums Amy released during her lifetime. I also found out that Amy’s alcohol and drug use were the cause of the snide YouTube comments.

Both Frank and Back to Black impressed me. Not only were the vocals great, but the lyrics were amazingly creative. One song I remember sticking to me instantly was “Fuck Me Pumps”. I thought the song would be about Amy’s shoes, but discovered that the subject was actually the irony of whorish women.  Furthermore, the song wasn’t jazz; it had a hip-hop vibe. As I read the lyrics while listening to the song I thought, “Amy Winehouse’s cheekiness is so cool.”

Another song that made an impression on me was  “Back to Black”. I was moving my head to the rhythm when it stops. Suddenly, I hear heartbeats and then Amy’s voice solemnly singing, “Blackkk…. Blackkkk” with a bell tolling in the background. It gave me goosebumps! Then I thought, “Man, this is so sad, but so good.”

Finally, I looked up Winehouse’s performances for the songs I really liked. They were pretty good. Amy’s vocals were far from perfect, but they satisfied me. Most of the time, Amy did her best to give a good performance. She sang and danced a little while sipping a drink thanking her backup singers and band from time to time. Although, I think that some of her best work is her acoustic performances.

However, there were times that I was badly shocked by Amy. I looked at her 2008 Glastonbury concert for twenty minutes on YouTube and then couldn’t watch anymore. She looked so skinny, pained, and out of it. I remember cringing as I watched her struggle to perform and thought, “What the heck happened to you?” The concert lead me to try to research more about her, but there weren’t a lot of decent articles about her. The best I could do was the 2007 Rolling Stone cover story, which made me feel sorry for her.

In the end, Amy Winehouse was a great musician who fused the sounds of the past with the present. However, she was also a human being who conveyed vulnerability, emptiness, depression, and self-hatred. She tried to pour her humanity into her songs, but it wasn’t enough.  And so, she left us. I hope she’s happier now and knows that she will be forever loved and missed.

Here is a video of Amy performing her song “Love is a Losing Game” at the DL Show

Written by Serena Zola

April 14, 2013 at 2:41 PM

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