This is the start of the Black Consciousness here at Lune Station, and, before we give it a start, we wan’t to make clear that us, as three white/yellow women, don’t want, in any means, to take a speak space that isn’t ours. Our goal this week is to use our space to give stage and voice to those who really are in front of this fight against racism and in favour of racial equality.
This week is to show our support, solidarity, learn more about movements and, why not, recommend a few entretainment works so that other people understand, know their place, and help the best way possible!
Today, I, Hekate, bring to lunar lands a documentary – that I learn a lot and cried a lot while I was watching too! – about a woman that knew how to use her voice in favour of civil movements and, also, to take good music for those who knew how to appreciate it. A woman that, for a long time, didn’t know who she was or what was her role in society as a woman, black, poor and with her dreams.
But who, when she discovered her strength and what she wanted to mean in society, became a hurricane: she entered her dreams wholeheartedly, causing curiosity to her community and making them know that their lives was worth as much as any other.
Nina Simone, a legendary voice in popular music, nicknamed High Priestess of Soul, had the dream of becoming the first black pianist to play on Carnegie Hall, conquering many prizes and fans along her career. She got to places and wrote songs that no other African American artist managed to or had the courage to do during the time in which he made history.
Board with me on this train to Tryon, North Carolina, and let’s get to know together more about this great artist and her art.
Who Was Eunice Kathleen Waymon?
Before we dive into the documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” I think it’s important to get to know a little about who was Nina Simone, what kind of art she did and how she got where she did.
Born in February 21, 1933, with the name Eunice Kathleen Waymon, daughter of a pastor, she started playing piano at three, four years old on the church in which her mother ministered her services. She was in love with the piano and decided as a life goal to be a classical pianist, and not only that: the first black classical pianist on United States.
Still in the church, at seven years old, while she was playing with the church choir in a recital, she met two white women: one of them was her mother’s boss and the other a music teacher, being that the two guaranteed she had classes and musical instruction with the instrument.
Her teacher was very strict, but also nice and, with her, Eunice learnt to play and like even more classical music. She played things like Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Brahms and so on. She studied with the help of those two women for five years and, also with their help, she gathered some money with a fund – Eunice Waymon – to continue her studies.
” ― I didn’t deal with race and, coincidently, I didn’t have counciousness about it, but that changed years later.” (Translated from Portuguese)
“- Eu não lidava com a raça, coincidentemente, eu não tinha consciência mesmo, mas isso mudou anos depois.” (Original in Portuguese
While she crossed the train line – which, where she grew up in, as well as in many places, there was some kind of division and separated black people from white people – she couldn’t find who she was in society: she didn’t fit the other side of the line and, on her side, when she wasn’t isolated studying for more than eight hours, she was playing to entretain other people and children, instead of living a childhood like every normal child.
After she finished her studies at school, with help of the fund she gathered, she managed to study for one year and a half at Juilliard (a college of Music, Dance and Theater located in New York). But, when the money was over, the application she did to Curtis Institute on Philadelphia was denied – to what she noticed it was because of the colour of her skin.
She had to find a job and, after her parents came to live with her on Philadelphia, she started to play at bars – that looked more like joints. That’s when, at 20 years old, she started using the artistic name Nina Simone and did it for her mother – who certainly wouldn’t understand or accept that she was winning money that way.
Until then, she was only a pianist – but, in one of her jobs, her boss said she had to sing as well. She never had done it before, she hadn’t studied singing, but she sang – and I and the musical world thank her for that.
She started making music after that and participating in Jazz festivals, on which more and more people got to know her art and her marking and mesmerizing voice. Starting on this world, when she was getting into entretainment, sometimes she didn’t feel comfortable, because she didn’t know if it was what she really wanted for her life – she was still between being a classical pianist or making popular music.
Some time after starting on festivals, Nina was already a rising star on the musical world: her rhythms like Jazz, Blues and Classical Music, along with her magnificent voice, only took her where she should always be, because her talent was – and still is, because art never dies – palpable and should be completely known.
The Marriage With Andrew Stroud…
Nina and Andrew – who, back then, was a police detective – met in 1960 in one of her shows. They started going out and, in 1961, they got married. As soon as they had their daughter, Lisa Simone, in 1962, their marriage looked perfect and their family looked the same. He left the police to become her manager, bought a big house in the countryside, with a beautiful backyard with trees, cars in the garage and everything else that filled peoples eyes.
But the good achievements and happy moments, masked a troubled relationship. As manager and caregiver of Nina’s career, Andrew was remarkable: he maintained her ruled and focused on objectives and sales. But, on their personal life, he was an extremely jealous, possessive and agressive man who constantly abused her – both physically and psychologically.
In a testimony she gives on the documentary – in an interview – she talks about an ocasion, in which they were in a bar and a fan gave her a note that she kept in her pocket. When he saw this, he held her strongly by her arm and took her away from the place. When they got to the sidewalk, he started hitting her and kept beating her until they got home. There, he kept on attacking her, physically and verbally, tied her up, beated her and had sex withher without her consent.
I cried so much at this moment, because so many women suffer this on their houses, from men they love and trust, and who can’t see this act, apart from disgusting, will never be love.
She also said she couldn’t separate from him, in the hopes he would never do something that hurt her again – she loved him and thought she needed him; that without him she wouldn’t be the great artist she was.
“You have to learn to get up from the table when love isn’t being served anymore.” (Translated from Portuguese)
“Você tem que aprender a levantar-se da mesa quando o amor não estiver mais sendo servido.” (Original in Portuguese)
Their divorce happened on 1970 – when, after she started to use her voice and the fact she was an artist watched by thousands in favour of civil rights, which made her music less profitable, he started to desire that she abandoned all that and lived for matrimony.
After she got envolved with influent and important people who were ahead the egalitarian movements on the 60’s, she noticed and found her place and dignity as a black person – and, maybe, this strength and determination was what opened her eyes regarding that relationship.
From a Great Musician to the Great Voice of Civil Rights
In order to talk about the importance of Nina Simone entering the civil rights movement, we need to, first, talk about what was this such important movement for the African American comunity in the USA.
Right after the end of slavery on the United States, at the end of the civil war in the year of 1865, black people, who were now free people, had no access to the same civil rights than white people.
The Jim Crow laws – that forced the racial segregation, the doctrine “separated, but equal” and the acts of Ku Klux Klan – made that, for a hundred years after the end of slavery, black people kept having their rights as citizens minimized or even inexistent in many social and equality scopes.
The civil rights movement was the campaign for civil and equality rights for the African American comunity on the United States, at the start of the 50’s decade.
Manifestations, protests, resistance, boycotts, parades and daily fights, commanded by great voices like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, made that, slowly, black people had the right to live; that their rights weren’t violated, they could come and go where they wanted, use the same space of people of other races – like schools, public transport, restaurants – and etc.
The Fight, that was extremely violent by those who didn’t accept the end of segragation, had other important goals for the community – and, until today, it’s a voice to fight against racism and racial discrimination all over the world.
The break point for Nina to enter the civil rights and racial equality movements came right after the explosion of a Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four students and harmed more than 20 other black people. The explosion, which happened in 1963, was caused by extremist white supremacy groups.
At first, she felt depressed and sad and, after the sadness was gone, she felt anger, felt the injustice of the black people and the fact they were being killed, mistreated, treated as nothing just because of their skin colour. After that episode with the children, she locked herself and wrote one of the songs that was an anthem and served as words of strength and welcome to all the community.
Mississipi Goddam was a song that for the time, it talked about how all artists and black people felt. She, as a woman amidst the entretainment industry, was ahead of her time – even when she suffered a boycott by the radios of south USA, she kept using her music, her voice and her space to political militancy in the fights for democratic freedom of the black people on the country.
In 1965, she played with her band in the Selma to Montgomery march, in Alabama. And, sitting in front of the stage, before the public, were Martin Luther King, Ralph Bunche, from the UN, and many other leaders that fought for social dignity of the black community.
“I don’t care for being without eating, or sleeping, as long as I do something that’s worth it” (Translated from Portuguese)
“Não me importo se ficar sem comer, ou dormir, contanto que faça algo que valha a pena” (Original in Portuguese)
She didn’t contribute only with her voice, on her concerts, but she joined the protesters, marches and in all kind of actions in favour of what she believed it was right – and it really was. There, she found the pillar of her existence: it wasn’t classical piano, nor classical or popular music, but her music for civil rights – there she found the real reason why she kept so long on show business.
She met Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Andrew Young and artists in general, that felt obligated to assume her same position. All great names of black America were intimate friends of Nina and her family. Lorraine Hasberry was Lisa’s godmother and she had a very close relationship with Malcom X’s family.
She started to want to wake on young black people the curiosity about their identities, about their origins, so they discovered something more about it, so they could be proud and have the dignity of the African people. And that was something that made her happy, because, in her youth, that kind of action was what was missing for her to grow up with more counciousness and dignity of who she was and where she came from.
She knew that using her voice at that moment, not only for entretainment, was crucial and not only for the black community, but also for herself – so that her, above all else – would feel proud of who she was, where she was going and what where her roots.
What Happened to Miss Simone?
The documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” from 2015, which is available on Netflix, shows rare, exclusive images, testimonies from people close to Nina – like her friend and guitarrist Al Schackman, her daughter Lisa Simone, her ex-husband Andrew Stroud, among other people that knew and lived with this amazing artist. Recordings from concerts and interviews, apart from pieces of diaries are also part of this production, that tells in details her troubled life from her childhood until her death in 2003.
Directed by Liz Garbus, the documentary, that counts with an AMAZING soundtrack (some of the songs played show recordings of performances, which makes everything even more fascinating) had many indications to great and prestigious awards for cinematographic productions – like the Oscars of Best Documentary (feature), MTV Movie & TV Awards of Best Documentary, Primetime Emmy of Best Documentary/Special, Peabody Award of Documentary and many other awards and categories.
A beautiful production, that shows how fame was something good and, at the same time, massacrating for this woman – who was strength and voice, not only of a generation, but of many people until today!
Watch the Documentary and Listen to Her Songs
I chose to talk about Nina Simone on my post on the Black Conciousness week, not only because she was an important part on the civil rights movement, but also because I’m hopelessly in love for the music she sang and created.
Jazz is one of my favourite musical genres – and we don’t talk about Jazz, Blues and Soul without talking about Nina, a profound voice that invades our senses, a combination of styles that instigates us to want to hear everything and anything that this amazing artists wanted to sing and produce.
So, as a tip for today’s post, listen to her wonderful songs on digital and stream platforms; and watch to this magnificent documentary so you know more about this woman, this activist, this artist.
The Documentary on Netflix: What Happened, Miss Simone?