Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Love Me or Leave Me" - Nina Simone

Only Nina Simone could pull off this amazing piano solo in the middle of a jazz number. Ms. Simone, a native of North Carolina, began playing piano at the age of 2. Just look at the decisive way she bears down on the keys, like she's been living with them all her life. And she did!

By 12 years of age Ms. Simone was already performing in public and by her early 20’s had graduated from Julliard School of Music in New York City as a classical pianist. That would have been around the year I was born in 1954. I did not become aware of Ms. Simone until I was listening to WLIB radio in New York when I was about 15 years old. This voice came out of the radio, singing a scathing set of lyrics, using her vocal chords almost like a stinging electric guitar. That record was "Backlash Blues", a poem written by Langston Hughes shortly before his death in 1967. If you have never heard it, you should be hitting You Tube right after reading this. It's a powerful song about Civil Rights, which I have posted here before. As a matter of fact, I’ll post it here again, with lyrics, at the end of this piece.

Ms. Simone, a native of North Carolina, where I live today, went on to become an iconic jazz performer and singer-composer in her own right. Some folks say that her 1976 album, "Nina Simone - Live in Montreux" is one of the greatest jazz performances ever caught on vinyl. All I know is that when I was 15 years old she knocked me over with a voice I had never heard before, singing Langston Hughes' poem about social injustice. In one of her last conversations with him, Mr. Hughes told her to sing the song wherever she went, because he wouldn't be around much longer.

Jump around a bit on You Tube for some incredible performances by Ms. Simone, either alone at her piano, or in one of the many combos she performed with over the years. And here is "Backlash Blues", followed by the Langston Hughes poem;

by Langston Hughes

Mister Backlash, Mister Backlash,
Just who do you think I am?
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages,
Send my son to Vietnam.

You give me second class houses,
Second class schools.
Do you think that colored folks
Are just second class fools?

When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash,
All you got to offer
Is a white backlash.

But the world is big,
Big and bright and round--
And it's full of folks like me who are
Black, Yellow, Beige, and Brown.

Mister Backlash, Mister Backlash,
What do you think I got to lose?
I'm gonna leave you, Mister Backlash,
Singing your mean old backlash blues.

You're the one
Will have the blues.
not me--
Wait and see!

For more about Nina Simone hit the following link to The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame;

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