Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What Happened, Miss Simone? [Book Review]

Written by Alan Light, this book was inspired by the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? about the legendary life of Nina Simone, who was first a classically trained pianist and evolved into a chart-topping civil rights activist.

I preferred the documentary to the book. While the book is good, one cannot possibly capture the magnetic presence of Miss Simone merely in pages.

The biographical film directed by Liz Garbus opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and showed, rather than attempted to tell, the beauty, power, the struggle, and the indefinable presence of Nina Simone. The documentary combines previously unreleased footage and interviews with Simone's daughter and friends.

The title of the film, as well as the book, is from an essay written by Maya Angelou. The quote in its entirety goes:

“Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. But what happened, Miss Simone?"

Nina Simone [born Eunice Waymon] changed her name when playing nightclubs in Atlantic City. In the photo above at Carnegie Hall, Nina played 18 pieces, an eclectic set list ranging from Israeli folk tunes to a Leadbelly song.

She was the first black female soloist to appear at the legendary theater. Released in 1963, Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall was beyond triumphant and became one of her finest albums.

Nina was well aware of her stage presence and referred to that as "mass hypnosis . . . a spell you cast."

This is how I like to think Nina was most at peace, at her piano.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

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