So far, my blog has mostly been about my thoughts on academia, movies, or travel. Today I want to go in a different direction and post about my new found love for (obsession with) Nina Simone.

“Nina Simone” is one of those names that has been on the edges of my consciousness for as long as I can remember, but I’ve only consciously been exposed to her music infrequently. My first memory of being aware of her is watching the final scene of Before Sunset, the sequel to Before Sunrise, both of which are among my favorite movies. More recently, our friends Mark and CJ gave us a copy of one of Simone’s CDs, and we caught part of a concert film of hers on Trio (or Ovation — one of those cable channels we don’t often watch).

None of these slight exposures to Simone’s music did much for me. But for some unexplained reason, I was looking for the CD Mark and CJ gave us and couldn’t find it. I don’t know what sparked the interest, but I wanted to sit down and really listen to her music. (I think it might have been seeing a little bit of the concert film again, but I’m not sure. But it might also be my deep, instinctual love of Black women: Tina Turner, Jill Scott, India Arie, Mary J. Blige, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jocelyn, Erika Badu ….)

So, PJ and I ended up buying a couple of CD anthologies of her music. I uploaded the one entitled Anthology, a 2-disk set, and have been listening to it almost non-stop for the past few days. In sum, I now think Nina Simone is the greatest vocal artist I’ve ever heard. Her ability to interpret a song, to “make it her own,” to borrow the insidious phrase that the judges on American Idol constantly use, is truly unparalleled.

I did a google search on “Nina Simone” and one of the things that came up was a series of clips from her live performances on YouTube. (As a corollary statement, I also think YouTube may be the most valuable entertainment outlet since the advent of the internet.) One of her songs that I’m most obsessed with right now is “I Love You Porgy.” Here’s a YouTube clip of Simone singing it live in 1962:

Simone’s interpretation of this song is amazing. She imbues it with such a sense of world-weariness, yearning, and pessimism. PJ and I saw the touring company of Porgy and Bess when it came to OU a couple of years ago and didn’t really care for it. But Simone’s jazzy styling of the song, if “jazzy” is the right word, comes from a place of such experience and maturity (without the histrionics of Fantasia’s rendition of “Summertime” on American Idol — not that AI is my touchstone for all music) that the song becomes, for me at least, such an insightful experience of love, life, loss, and desire.

One of the other songs I’m obsessed with — and by obsessed I mean that I’m literarlly listening to them over and over again — is “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” Simone’s cover of a French song originated by Jacques Brel. YouTube has an audio clip of her version (the video is kind of cheesy, I know):

Again, Simone instills such tenderness and yearning into the song, which (again) is about the inevitably of lost love — it’s only a matter of time until your lover leaves you. It’s a beautiful song. Here’s a clip of Brel singing it. His version is also really good, if a bit more melodramatic; from what I’ve read online he’s known for the drama of his singing, but I guess it’s difficult to screw up a truly great song!

I went through and watched other clips of Brel and liked him so much that I bought an anthology of his music too.

Needless to say, Nina Simone and YouTube are opening up a whole new musical vista for me. Now I’m going to have to read more about her and then purchase more of her music.

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