"That's a hell of an ambition, to be mellow. It's like wanting to be senile."
Randy Newman
on "middle of the road" music.





May I share some memories and feelings? I am compelled to broadcast these words to those I know who appreciate greatness and the triumph of a genuine underdog.

I saw Nina Simone while I was in undergraduate school at FSU during a trip to New York. From that moment on, I never thought about race, women, music, government, or fear the same. It was my transforming moment when, by God, I would forever despise injustice and the senseless infliction of pain on any human for any reason whatever.

Ms. Simone was hardly a weak, humble lady. She was defiant, justifiably arrogant and proud of where she was from and how she got to where she was. She did her talking through lyrics in her songs and the power of her fingers on the piano. She commanded her audience to listen. Those who did got a brief glimpse of heaven and hell.

Recently, I listened to her songs through the generosity of WLRN, Miami’s NPR station, which dedicated several hours to Ms. Simone’s incredible music. The polite, respectful commentary by Jazz authority Len Pace convinced me that he loved her. I know the feeling.

Through the kindness of a wealthy family in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone began her career while a student at Juilliard. Her first recording I recall was Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy,” and I still wonder what it would be like to be loved with such power and devotion. Life was surely rough for a young African-American female musician during the 50’s and 60’s in America. Nina Simone moved permanently to the south of France, mastered the language (she could sing any jazz standard in French—check out her interpretation of “If You Go Away” ("Ne me Quitte pas"). It is stunning.) When she died in April, France mourned.

The final song played on WLRN's tribute was her astonishing “Love Me Or Leave Me.” Nothing like it has ever been recorded. The piano chorus pays homage to Mozart, Brahms and Bach, and the lyrics are loaded with pain without surrender. I actually prayed that the song would not end.

Nina Simone awoke the world to the horrors of racism. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, she composed. “The King Is Dead,” a song that is so indescribably heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. Some radio station, somewhere on earth is playing it today. Ms. Simone would only ask that we listen.

I tried to write an essay for publication about the life and music of Nina Simone, After all, I really did sit in her presence and I do love her. This will have to be postponed when I am emotionally capable of expressing thoughts that truly honor this remarkable lady.

Thanks for your time. Now, go out and get the CD, “The Best of Nina Simone.” Open up a bottle of French wine, pour a little in a nice crystal glass and listen to music from a goddess.

You will enjoy the experience. You really can do this alone. And you’ll likely discover a new friend.

Doc Lawrence

 

Other pages:

Hank Ballard, creator of The Twist

The Blind Boys of Alabama

Elvis in the Fifties

Atlanta's Freddy Cole

The X-Miss Americas

Waylon Jennings

Jazz Funeral of a Crescent City legend

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on tour

Opera Theatre in St. Louis

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