Nina Simone

Dave Godin
Blues & Soul, July 1968

ONE IS always apprehensive about meeting artists for whom one has a great admiration or burning passion – I deliberately avoided meeting the one and only Howlin' Wolf many years ago because my admiration for this artist is such that I feared a face to face meeting might be like staring into the sun, and so it was with Nina Simone.

Certainly she must be one of the most written about artists since, as it is common knowledge that she is a militant and active champion of equal rights for all people, she is very good copy for journalists who, if they get bored about writing about her records (and it should be remembered that first and foremost she is a singer, and a spokesman for humanity running a very close second), they can always provoke her into losing her cool and making her say something strong which they can then write up for the appetites of their readers. However, on her recent visit to London I knew I would have to meet her at last since one of my co-directors at "Soul City" is also her fan club secretary.

At last she arrived and I can only think for one word that describes her to perfection, and that is "cool". There is a feline grace and beauty about her in all she does, and every movement flows with a natural rhythm and beauty which is all of her own creation. Wearing the shortest mini-dress outside of a nudist colony, her hair natural and short, and the latest fashion in shoes, we were soon chatting like old friends since her power of communication in her recordings is so great that when one does meet her it is really like meeting someone you already know since she is her records – there is no artifice about her, no act for the public and a different one in private, for she is such a total person that everything is a unity – she is Nina Simone, and that alone tells all and spills over to enrich not only every aspect of her own life but various sections of ours too!

It had always puzzled me to know whether Miss Simone's approach to her music and her humanities was intellectual or emotional, and I drew the conclusion that it was the latter, for although she is highly intelligent and well read (she was, it must be remembered, once training as a concert pianist) it is what she "feels" rather than what she "thinks" that decides her attitude for her, and since I am in exactly the same boat myself we didn't have to waste any time talking technicalities or theorising about beliefs we held in common.

She was of course very disturbed about the recent assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and her latest release is a tribute to him and his aims with which she is in accord. She said frankly that she did not think it would prove to be a big hit for her, but it had to be said, and I'm sure all readers who have heard it will agree that it is a remarkable document. Remarkable however is a word that one tends to over-work when describing Miss Simone's recordings. She is so versatile and so consummate an artist that everything is performed to a perfection that meets her own exacting demands – when she is satisfied then the record can be released and she is confident that she has produced an item that is worthy of her name.

Her last record To Love Somebody was not released in Britain due to some odd blind-spot in the artistic eye of RCA in Britain, but in my opinion is one of her strongest records to date. It has a heavy and complex arrangement that suits her splendidly, and I still hope RCA will relent and put the title out. She herself expressed her sorrow at this move since she felt it might be the record to put her back into the British charts. Time will tell of course, and a few letters from fans to RCA might make them reconsider.

Miss Simone is very pleased with the reception that she gets in the UK, and thinks she has some of the loyalist fans an artist could wish for. Whilst she was here she appeared on the Simon Dee Show, and also recorded a TV show which was dedicated to her vital talent and this will be transmitted later in the year.

Miss Simone was delighted with "Soul City" and what we are trying to do, and she was pleased to see a shop which sold so many recordings by her soul brothers and sisters. I was pleased to learn that she was a co-admirer of Ruth Brown since as I explained to her, it was Ruth Brown who launched me personally into being a fan of R & B fifteen years ago, and for this reason I shall always retain a special affection and gratitude to her for it. Nina said she'd be sure to tell her whenever she next met her, and added "Well you've been a negro for fifteen years – so you know a little of what it's like – I've been one for nine hundred years" – The paradox went home, and I knew exactly what she was trying to say.

Of all the songs I'd love to hear her sing the one I'd like to hear most is her singing 'Going Down Slow' and I told her this. She gave me one look and then broke out into a smile – "If I sang that I'd be out of action for five weeks – it'd tear me up so much that there'd be no living with me."

She went on to explain how once in a concert she sang 'Pirate Jenny' from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera with such intensity that "it took her five years to recover". I can well believe it – she terrifies the pants off me when she sings that particular song, and since she is arranging more of his songs from Mahagonny for future use – one can be sure that she has far from lost the strength and intensity that she used in numbers like 'Mississippi Goddam', and the sparks have in no way died down.

Long may she continue as an entertainer, but more than an entertainer, she is a reminder that even the most enlightened conscience can get sluggish and forgetful, and she reminds us in the most salutary manner that things are far from how they should be in the world, and that we still have a long way to go together. It is credit to Miss Simone's immense talent that she manages to combine the two aspects with such stunning brilliance.

I also wanted to write this month about someone else who has blown my mind – Sly & The Family Stone whose 'Dance To The Music' is at last re-released now. However, I shall have to save them until next month – in any case it is probably for the best since I am convinced that 'Dance To The Music' will probably be in the Top 5 by then!