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Nina Simone- Nina Simone in Concert (1964)

Updated: May 9

Nina Simone - Nina Simone in Concert (Phillips)

Released 1964 (no date given)

Recorded March 21, April 1, and April 6, 1964, at Carnegie Hall

About Nina Simone

Eunice Kathleen Waymon is Nina Simone, "The High Priestess of Soul." Simone was a fantastic singer, pianist, songwriter, and political activist whose music blended gospel, jazz, classical, blues, folk, and R&B. She is one of the purest and most honest American recording artists to emerge in the second half of the 20th century. Simone was born to a poor family in Tyron, North Carolina. Her father was a barber, dry cleaner, and entertainer; her mother was a Methodist preacher. By age four, she was playing piano; by 12, she was giving classical concerts. Her talents were so evident that a community fund was set up for her to continue with more advanced studies and to attend the Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, North Carolina.

In 1950, Simone went to the Juilliard School for a summer to study with legendary German pianist Carl Friedberg. Her Julliard studies were meant to prepare her for her audition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her family relocated to Philadelphia to support her dream, but to her surprise, she was denied admittance. Simone has often stated that it was because of prejudice. Instead, she took lessons privately with Vladimir Sokoloff, a professor at Curtis.

Early Career

Although she aspired to be a classical pianist, Simone began performing blues and jazz at a club in Atlantic City, where she started to sing secular music and adopted the name Nina Simone to hide the fact that she was performing "devil's music" from her mom. In 1958 she was offered a session to record the George Gershwin tune "I Loves You, Porgy" from his folk opera Porgy and Bess. The song became her only top-20 hit in the U.S., earning her a recording contract with Bethlehem Records. Sadly she sold her rights to her music on the record for $3000 and lost out on over a million dollars in future earnings. In 1959 she signed with Colpix Records and began recording and touring regularly. She also married Andrew Stroud, a police detective who would become her manager, father to her daughter, and sadly her abuser (which he has admitted to).

About the album

In 1964, Simone, who was always aware of racial tensions, included songs that drew from the African American experience and became more extreme in her political activism and song selections, exemplified by her original piece "Mississippi Goddam," her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, a hate crime that killed four young African American girls.

Her activism continued as she became a strong supporter of Malcolm X and the Black nationalism movement, which often called for the use of force to inspire change, a divide from the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been suggested that her outspokenness and "radical" views hurt her mainstream success, but despite being left off the pop charts, Simone continued to present politically fueled music.

One of Simone's most celebrated works was her 1964 release Nina Simone in Concert, which included highlights from three Carnegie Hall performances made during the year. It was the first showcase of Simone's move to present more politically fueled protest music. Joining Simone is her backing band of Rudy Stevenson on guitar, Lisle Atkinson on bass, and Bobby Hamilton on drums. The album was more of a critical success than a commercial one, and it never reached higher than 102 on the Billboard Charts.

Following the Record

By the mid-1970s, Simone's life had become more complex. She struggled with her marriage and the IRS, who was after her for unpaid taxes. She decided to move to Barbados for some time to avoid these struggles. While there, she had an ongoing affair with Prime Minister Errol Barrow. She then moved for some time to Liberia. During this time, her relationship with her daughter Lisa became heavily strained. According to Lisa, Simone was physically and mentally abusive, and Lisa returned to the U.S. to be with Stroud.

In the 1980s, Simone moved frequently, and at times she settled in Liberia, Barbados, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Amsterdam and continued to record and perform. Still, her mental state worsened, and she was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Simone continued to struggle later in life. In the 1990s, she moved to England and France and suffered from breast cancer which took her life in 2003 at 70. Her legacy and talents have been passed onto her daughter Lisa Celeste Stroud, who has recorded as a singer with Liquid Soul and was showcased on several Broadway productions.

Side 1

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Track 1 -"I Loves You, Porgy" is from George Gershwin's 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, based on DuBose Heyward's 1925 novel Porgy and Dorothy and DuBose Heyward's play by the same name. Despite Gershwin's success, the composer struggled to get the opera produced because it dealt with the struggles of African American characters living in the slums of Charleston. Although it had a run on Broadway, the show was considered a commercial failure for Gershwin, but it did produce one of his biggest hits, "Summertime." In the 1970s, the show found a second life and has continued to become a more significant part of the American repertoire.

The lyrics for the song were provided by George's brother Ira Gershwin, who helped with many of the songs. The song comes at a moment when Porgy promises Bess to protect her from her abusive boyfriend, Crown. Simone first recorded the song in 1958, and the tune was released on her 1959 debut, Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem). Her live interpretation displays Simone's gifts as an interpreter of standard material as both a singer and pianist. The performance includes a rubato (out-of-tempo) section on the bridge. (+)

Track 2- "Plain Gold Ring" was written by Earl Burroughs, aka Jack Hammer, who also wrote the Jerry Lee Lewis hit "Great Balls of Fire. The tune begins with a repetitive bass line and some scat vocalizations by Simone. The song discusses having an affair with a married man. The music builds throughout and is dark, serious, and passionate. The song was also from her debut album, Little Girl Blue. (+).

Track 3- "Pirate Jenny" was written by Kurt Weill for the show Threepenny Opera. The lyrics are about a lonely hotel maid named Jenny who imagines herself as a pirate who burns the city to the ground and kills those who wronged her before she sails away. Including this Broadway-style number may be a statement against oppression. Simone's energy, anger, and theatrical nature come through heavily in this tune. The crowd encourages Simone with a resounding ovation at the conclusion.

Track 4- "Old Jim Crow" was a protest song written by Simone against the Jim Crow laws, named after the minstrel hit "Jump Jim Crow" from 1828. The song was extremely popular and was sung in blackface by Daddy Rice. The music is played with an uplifting, spirited swing contrasting the darkness of the lyrics. An excellent protest tune (+).

Side 2

Track 1- "Don't Smoke In Bed" is a slow jazz ballad composed by Willard Robinson with help from Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour in 1948. Simone first recorded it on the album Little Girl Blue. This song features Simone alone. Her voice is filled with emotion, and her piano playing is dark and somewhat modernistic. The lyrics are a sad reflection of divorce, and the leaving lover offers some final advice to her ex-love in the form of a letter in which she tells him not to smoke in bed to cope with her departure. Many other artists like K.D. have covered the song. Lang, Holly Cole, and Sinéad O'Connor. Simone's version remains the most well-known and beloved. (+)

Track 2- "Go Limp" is Simone's adaptation of a protest song written by Alex Comfort to the folk ballad "Sweet Betsy from Pike." The piece offers many sexual innuendos and showcases Simone's ability to interact with the audience. At one point, she forgets a verse and jokes with the crowd. The lyrics tell the story of a mother warning her daughter not to get too involved with civil rights activism as it will destroy her love life. It nearly destroyed Simone's life, but she never gave up on fighting against social injustice.

Track 3- "Mississippi Goddam" is often cited as one of the most important protest songs of the 20th century. The tune was first released on this record. Simone wrote the song in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama, which left four African American girls dead, and the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi. Members of the KKK were responsible for both horrific events. Despite the lyrics' seriousness, Simone presents the song as an uptempo show tune. "Mississippi Goddam" became an anthem during the Civil Rights Movement. Simone would play the song during Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.

Several southern states banned the song. In the lyrics, Simone talks about her desire for "equality" and warns that the "country is full of lies." She also contradicts Martin Luther King Jr.’'s teachings that "change takes time" and warns against the tragedies that continue to come by "doing it slow." Everyone needs to know of this song and the work of Miss Simone (*+)

In Conclusion

Nina Simone in Concert is celebrated as one of the essential albums of protest music; it also gives a glimpse into Simone's performance style, and the emotional power of her lyrics, voice, and piano playing is quite remarkable. In 2000, Simone was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, and in 2017, Simone was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, despite having never won an actual Grammy award. In 2018 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

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