January 25 - 31 | 2016

What happened, Miss Simone?

I always show interest in the personal story of someone, be it a celebrity or not. Celebrities, of course, provoke the most interest as we often view them as God-like, way above, until we grasp some information that shows us they are very much like us, ordinary people. They have their ups and downs, even more downs than we can imagine. Stardom comes at a price. 

There are many documentaries in the work with the subject of Nina Simone. This week I saw Netflix's documentary, titled "What happened, Miss Simone?". The biopic tells her story by combining footage of her concerts, overlaid with recorded interviews of her and her family and excerpts from her personal diary. 

The documentary centres around her breakdown, provoked by Simone's inability to manage tours and schedule, her tiredness, the race inequality issues in the US during the 60s and 70s, the abusive marriage and her overall psychological instability. It's the sad story of the young Eunice Waymon (Nina's real name) who studied music to become the first female famous black classical musician, but faith had it different for her. Her ability to sing is what she discovered after having to play at a bar, so she could support her studies. From the footage of her earlier concert (and later too) you can tell she never felt very comfortable being in the spotlight. Her stage attitude is viewed as awkward and her connection with the crowd is weird and intimidating.

During one of her concerts shown in the documentary, Nina pauses and tells a fan "Hey, you there, be quiet!" by pointing a finger. She also has a very hard relationship with her husband and later manager Andrew Stroud. He managed her career but was also abusive and beat her up on many occasions, as her diary reveals.

Nina Simone and husband Andrew Stroud (on her right)

Nina Simone and husband Andrew Stroud (on her right)

A central point in Nina Simone's life plays her involvement with the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and 70s. Simone is influenced by the occurrences of violence and starts writing music by putting racial inequality as central issue in her texts. She is notorious for having once told Martin Luther King, Jr., "I'm not non violent". Contrary to Luther King who promoted peace, Simone stood up for violent approach to the race inequality issues, asking her crowd if they "were ready to kill if necessary." 

Nina Simone spent the late time of her life in Liberia, where she wasn't performing, and then moved to France. She started doing concerts there because she needed money, all over again, but barely managed to gather a crowd because no one believed it was really, the real Nina Simone. Soon after that she was diagnosed with manic depression and bipolar disorder. Her last years were spent on very heavy drugs and absence of the mind. She passed away in her sleep in 2003.

Thank you for the music, Miss Simone!