In honor of Black History Month, I’ll be featuring African-American artists who have helped shape the way we do music in America. Enjoy!
What can be said about the incomparable Nina Simone that hasn’t been said a million times already? Nina was a singer, songwriter, pianist, and amazing civil rights activist. She loved classical music and wanted to be a classical pianist, but by far her greatest contributions to American music came from her instinctive talent for taking classical influences and injecting them with a heaping dose of jazz and soul. She learned to connect with her audience in a tangible way by playing piano during sermons and at revivals. Nina was a commanding presence on stage, and came to be known as “The High Priestess of Soul.” She incorporated monologues and dialogue with the audience into her performances, and I believe this incorporating style was one of the early influences of spoken word.
Dozens of artists cite her as one of their musical influences, including John Legend, Mos Def, Cat Stevens, Mary J. Blige, Jeff Buckley, and John Lennon. Without a doubt, her musical legacy has shaped what music sounds like today, and I cannot get enough of her silky/growl-ey/soulful voice. ‘Feeling Good’ is not just one of my top Nina Simone songs, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s been covered time and time again, but no one can get close to the grab-you-by-the-heart-and-dive-right-in feel that the original has. (Although, remember My Brightest Diamond? They did a pretty respectable job.)