Nina Simone

Music & Lyrics

“Nina could sing anything, period,” Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone when the magazine named Nina Simone one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. And in some ways, that astonishing, unclassifiable range has made it especially difficult to assess Simone’s legacy – often considered a jazz singer (particularly because of her masterful piano playing), she was classically trained, yet her nickname was “The High Priestess of Soul.”

If anything, she claimed that she was a folk singer, and her dazzling repertoire – Israeli folk tunes, compositions by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, songs by the Bee Gees and Leonard Cohen and George Harrison, traditional ballads, spirituals, children’s songs – remains unparalleled.

Simone’s music provided the true soundtrack to the civil rights movement, and her inspiration as an artist and an activist has been celebrated by Lauryn Hill, Kanye West (who has frequently sampled her work), John Legend, Common, and Alicia Keys, who once wrote that “she made me want to live life, learn and experience it earnestly and use my voice to say SOMETHING!”

Simone’s groundbreaking compositions like “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women” defined a songwriting voice that was proudly, defiantly black and female. Her radical rearrangements of other songs have been covered by everyone from George Michael to the Animals, Whitney Houston to Jeff Buckley. An icon whose tortured life was the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, Nina Simone was a unique creative force. “She was an overwhelming artist, piano player, and singer,” said Bob Dylan. “Very outspoken and dynamite to see perform…the kind of artist that I loved and admired.”

(Bio and photo: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

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