“Unlike most artists I didn’t care that much about a career as a popular singer. I was different- I was going to be a classical musician.”
I’ve always been drawn to Nina Simone’s soulful voice and her powerful lyrics in such songs as “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Ain’t Got No…” I felt a little apprehensive about reading her biography because I guess it’s human nature for people to idealize their heroes, and to think of them as flawless human beings.
The story begins with the background of her childhood and her dreams to be a classical musician, which unfortunately were unsuccessful, and meant that she took work in seedy clubs that she hated:
“If someone had walked up to me in the street and given me $100,000, I would have given up popular music and enrolled at Julliard and never played in a club again. And I wouldn’t have missed the life because I hated it anyway; the cheap crooks, the disrespectful audiences, the way most people were easily satisfied by dumb, stupid tunes.”
The book also goes into her role in Civil Rights history, and she had a big role. She was friends with great people, such as Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin.
“Like anyone with half a brain, I had followed the development of the civil rights movement from its early days with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Junior and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955…My music was dedicated to a purpose more important than classical music’s pursuit of excellence; it was dedicated to the fight for freedom and the historical destiny of my people.”
I found the autobiography sad at times as well. Her dependence on men for one was a bit tragic; it didn’t seem as though she really had an active role in the managing of her own career. Also, her failed marriages, relationships and affairs were quite sad to read about.
Additionally, Nina Simone didn’t feel as though she belonged in America; despite her successes she didn’t feel any respect: “I suddenly realized what it was to be black in America in 1963, but it wasn’t an intellectual connection,…it came as a rush of fury, hatred and determination.” This was probably one of the reasons why she enjoyed going to Africa so much:
“All around us were black faces and I felt for the first time the spiritual relaxation any Afro-American feels on reaching Africa. I didn’t feel like I’d come home when I arrived in Lagos, but I knew I’d arrived somewhere important and that Africa mattered to me, and would always matter.”
It’s a relatively short read, at least compared to the other autobiographies I’ve read, but it states only pertinent information and not so much filler, as far as I can tell. I also loved the photos included.
I admired Ms. Simone’s candidness and honesty; she didn’t sugar-coat anything. It was also quite an inspirational story in that she rose against the odds, despite her family experiencing poverty during the Great Depression, and having her dream of being a classical pianist shattered