What Happened, Miss Simone?
Her Story, Her VoiceDVD - 2016
From the critics
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As I got older, I started to look at her and I thought to myself,
"Wow, she's from another time!" But she was not at odds with the times. The times was at odds with her. I think when a person moves to their own kind of clock, spirit, flow, if we were living in an environment that allowed us to be exactly who we are, you're always in congress with yourself. The challenge is, "How do we fit in in the world that we're around, but we... Are we allowed to be exactly who we are? Was Nina Simone allowed to be exactly who she was?" As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?
I remember my dad complaining about the fact that she never stopped speaking out, but that's who she was. It was okay when you were onstage. It's okay 'cause you let it all hang out, and then when the show ends and the lights go out, "Okay, let's put the monkey back in the cage, and eat your banana and, you know, just behave yourself."
I can't sit here and speak about Aunt Nina and Uncle Andy's marriage. What I can say is that participation and activism during the '60s... rendered chaos in any individual's lives. People sacrificed sanity, well-being, life. Nina Simone was a free spirit in an era that didn't really appreciate a woman's genius. So what does that do to a household and a family? Not because of income, but because of your soul not being able to do what you need to do.
Nina was a real rebel. She didn't really fit in the revolutionary black female role that was offered her. She could avoid pretentious phoniness and get more depth out of a song than people are used to hearing out of those songs. She was a kind of patron saint of the rebellion. Nina started to get more aggressive. I remember one time as she walked right up to Dr. King and said, "I'm not non-violent!" And he said, "That's okay, sister. You don't have to be."
Miss Simone says something very significant in her song "Mississippi Goddam." She says, "This country..." She says, "This country is built on lies." You're gonna sit in front of your television set and listen to LBJ tell you that, "Violence never accomplishes anything, my fellow Americans." And the honky drafting you out of school to go fight in Vietnam.
When I first got into show business, I wasn't a blues singer and I wasn't even a jazz singer. I was a classical pianist. I studied to become the first black classical pianist in America, and that's all that was on my mind.
Lorraine Hansberry was my best friend, and she wrote plays, Raisin in the Sun and Young, Gifted, and Black. She taught me a lot about Karl Marx, Lenin, philosophy. The basic fabric of our society that has Negroes in the situation that they are in is the thing which must be changed, you know.
We don't even have the pride and the dignity of African people, but we can't even talk about where we came from. We don't know. It's like a lost race.
What's "free" to you, Nina?
- What's "free" to me?
- Same thing it is to you. You tell me.
No, no, you tell me.
- I don't know. It's just a feeling. It's just a feeling. It's like, "How do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love?" How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love?
You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can't tell them, but you know it when it happens. That's what I mean by "free." I've had a couple of times onstage when I really felt free, and that's something else. That's really something else!
Like, all... all... Like... like... I'll tell you what freedom is to me, no fear. I mean, really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life, no fear.
She didn't want to return to what she called, "The United Snakes of America."
Most people are afraid to be as honest as she lived.
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