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I'm reading a biography of Nina Simone at the moment; a brilliant page turner of a book and a brilliant page turner of a life! The highs and lows of Nina Simone's life are enthralling. One second she's got a hit in the charts but she's broke and working as a maid, the next she's a rich socialite in Liberia with more suitors than she can keep track of, the next she's an old crank living in France sneaking into her neighbors swimming pools to go skinny dipping and getting her gun out to shoot at their kids when they make too much noise.
The first album I ever bought was a Nina Simone compilation entitled 'The After Hours' (the first single I ever bought was Dustin the Turkey' *facepalm*). It's a very odd collection of tracks. A mix of studio recordings of full band arrangements with strings and live recordings. Some of the live recordings are completely unaccompanied A cappella. Now that I'm reading her biography I'm realising some of the tracks were probably pirated. The bad quality live recording probably done without her consent. She had many issues with labels and promoters ripping her off, her own manager was her abusive husband who would make deals without her knowledge so it's impossible to know.
I bought this album (when I was ten or eleven) because at home we had a Nina Simone CD of her upbeat hits that I loved. It was full of songs like My Baby Just Cares For Me, Love Me or Leave Me and Ain't Got No...but when I got this CD home I was pretty shocked.
I was expecting something like this:
Of course I went back and listened to the upbeat, poppy songs and had a new appreciation for them. I heard the nuance in her vocal delivery, the poignancy in a lyric like "Oh, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel".
Of course she wrote music of her own as well. In her own music her steadfast political stance came to the fore;
*This is an old post from the blog I kept before I had a website of my own that I decided to update and post here because the Improvised Music Company is hosting a Nina Simone listening party / panel discussion on December 13th.