It’s Black History Month and although there have been so many forces (inside and outside of the Black community) that have tried to derail what is the shortest month of the year given to Black Americans to celebrate our achievements, accomplishments, and contributions to this country; I’d like to take a beat to talk about one of my favorite contributors to the civil rights movement: Nina Simone
I don’t think a lot of people think of Nina Simone when it comes to the civil rights movement but she was there. Loud and proud and keeping everyone uplifted in song, she is the G.O.A.T. Simone was born in 1933, a time when Jim Crow laws were still intact and Black people were fighting for scraps. And yet she never stopped believing that things would get better.
Simone’s music is soulful and it has the ability to make you feel every emotion possible. When I listen to her music, I feel empowered and motivated. She is a prime example of someone who used their art as a form of activism. Simone once said, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” And that’s exactly what she did.
She recorded protest songs like “Mississippi Goddam” (a response to the murder of Medgar Evers) and “Old Jim Crow” during the civil rights movement. Simone was unafraid to use her voice and her music to call out the injustices that she saw in the world.
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” is one of my favorite songs of hers because it speaks to the Black experience in America. The song is about embracing our African heritage and being proud of who we are.
It’s a song that gives me strength when I’m feeling down and reminds me that no matter what anyone says, I am beautiful and powerful.
While I can’t remember the first time I heard anything from Nina Simone or even the first song that I heard, I know for sure that I discovered her music sometime around 2016. I was working in the office at my union as a communications manager and while working in that position I had tons of time to discover new artists. I also remember that I discovered a playlist on Spotify that had remixed all of her major hits. I listened to that playlist for what felt like a small lifetime and then it hit me that I should probably open my ears up to some of her original music. I wasn’t quite ready for what I would hear considering that most of her music is very somber and heartwrenching but I’m glad that I did because ultimately she has become another piece of me I didn’t know it was missing.
I think there are many things that can influence us in life. For me, I have been influenced by so much within pop culture, TV shows, movies, and most certainly music. Not everything I consume makes such a splash but then you hear Lilac Wine for the first time and it’s over for the girls.
Discovering Nina Simone definitely changed my life and the way that I view the world.
From my own experience in the social justice space, I can tell you that good, life-changing and successful movement work comes at a price, and sometimes with sacrifice. From what I learned Simone lost her music career fighting for our people and we should never forget what these women (and men) sacrificed for us in order to move society forward.
When I think of Simone, I think of an artist who was unapologetically Black and uncompromising in her artistic vision. And as a result, some folks might feel uncomfortable with her work and not want to engage with it.
Do You Boo.
I love Nina Simone because her music makes me feel seen. It’s so funny the way that music lives through the decades in a way that is still relevant at any time.
We love Nina Simone because she was unafraid to be herself even if society doesn’t always agree or understand her. We love her for being boldly Black, defiantly female, and musically genius.