Throng Welcomes Nina Simone, Back After Long Absence

Mike Jahn
New York Times, 11 May 1971

TEN YEARS ago Nina Simone was justly praised for her spell-binding, jazz singing, hypnotic mood and many intricate shades of black. Then she moved more toward rhythmic, gospel-like music, and finally more and more into African culture. Sunday she made her first New York appearance in a year and a half at Carnegie Hall before an adoring audience.

I went expecting her to be solidly in this camp; a statuesque, dignified and proud representative of her people. Instead, what Miss Simone presented was a disappointment; a shoddy, uneven performance given to clich├ęs of almost vaudeville proportions, and muddy, repetitious rhythm music that many rock bands could do as well.

To begin with, she was 55 minutes late. She appeared, explaining that her dress needed repairs. She performed pleasant versions of several songs, but much of the majesty of her voice was drowned out by the band.

She brought her 8-year-old daughter onstage to dance; brought her swami onstage to watch her sing a song; brought two black dancers wearing tails onstage to dance the old soft shoe in conjunction with her singing of 'Mr. Bojangles'; and left the stage several times while the band played interesting but ultimately boring Afro-Cuban percussion. I can see why she might now consider her old readings of songs from Porgie and Bess to be demeaning.

It is easy for Nina Simone to be a magnificent artist. She has been many times. It is just as easy for her to be proud and dignified, in keeping both with the level of her artistry, and with the richness of the culture of which she is so justly proud, Why she chose not to do so is unfathomable and sad.