I’ve been a fan of Nina Simone since before I knew what being a fan was. On Saturday mornings ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ would hum through the rooms of our suburban century old home as we did our weekly chores. I eventually dreamed of someone caring for me as much as Nina’s love cared for her.
Loving Nina’s work from such a young age made me protective of it when Kanye & JayZ sampled it and almost enraged when Kanye used a chopped up version of her rendition of Strange Fruit. It’s funny how we stake claim on art that moves us, even when we know nothing about the artist themselves.
This point was illuminated when I saw the fantastic documentary, ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?” last weekend. The first film to be financed by Netflix, this documentary was all at once moving and incredibly depressing.
Simone began playing piano at church at the tender age of four. Noticed by a local white piano teacher, Simone was given the fortunate opportunity to get lessons where she instantly flourished. Her love for the piano gave her the dedication to devote hours a day to practice which distanced her from friends and her community – something that would haunt her in her later life.
Simone’s dream was to become the first black classical pianist. Her talent brought her to Julliard where she excelled but not getting into a graduate school that she dreamed of because she was black was a devastating blow. Simone ended up in Atlantic City playing piano in a bar and it wasn’t until she was pressured by her boss that she first began to sing and the voice that she became world famous for made its first debut.
From here the movie takes us on the crazy ride that was Nina’s life. From the top of the charts and a sky rocketing career to it’s dismal unraveling.
There’s no denying the genius of Nina Simone. As we’ve seen so many before her and after her, the life of an artist is not always an easy one. Simone sang with such passion that there had to be something behind it. This movie opened my eyes to an incredible woman with such strength that it’s hard not to be in awe but I also wanted to jump into the screen, stop time and pick up Simone in my arms. Maybe even to just see what would have come from her talent if she was properly supported.
I was thrilled to see more into the life of this incredible talent and I highly recommend you checking this movie out. If anything, it’s a great reminder that no matter what it may look like on the outside, we all have our own struggles.