The Incredible Story of Nina Simone
By Erwan Schiex

33 Culture Square / Buzzles Magazine
February 2, 2015

In a gripping documentary entitled "The Amazing Nina Simone,"

Jeff Lieberman brings to life the extraordinary artist and civil

rights activist.

An influential figure in both music and the struggle for Civil Rights, Nina Simone left her mark for over fifty decades. The grain of her voice, her technique, her lyrics and her status as an emancipated woman have made her an incomparable artist. Throughout her life, Eunice Kathleen Waymon (her real name) always responded with strength and a tenacity to a pre-determined destiny.

This documentary explores the many facets of the personality of Nina Simone: as an artist, an activist and as a woman. It covers the full circle of her life.

Through interviews with her loved ones and the help of archival film, the director lets us (re) discover a woman inhabited with a passion for music that stretched to the depths of her soul. A woman who also faced many contradictions, which permanently affected her career choices and private life. The soundtrack perfectly follows the storyline crafted by Jeff Lieberman’s documentary, heightened with illustrations, film and photos. In addition, the director faithfully reproduces the artist’s major (and numerous) achievements – they way they happened.

Born in 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, Eunice Waymon was above all a talented and promising pianist. Eager to make a career in Classical Music, her ambitions took another twist when she was rejected by the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. It would affect her all her life. To make a living, Eunice Waymon began singing in a bar in Atlantic City, under the pseudonym of Nina (little girl in Spanish) Simone (referring to the actress Simone Signoret). With a Soul and Jazz repertoire inspired by her father, she quickly established her name. Her version of Gershwin’s "I love you, Porgy" made her famous.

Gradually, Nina Simone became "The High Priestess of Soul" which led to successful concert tours, although her album sales often  didn’t match the level of her talent. Her music, which spoke of love, also became influenced by her convictions and political commitments. Nina Simone became an influential figure in the struggle for civil rights within the African American community. Sometimes alongside Dr. King, other times alongside Malcolm X, but always keeping her independence and freedom, she became a reflection of her time and of society.

Eager to escape the labels and with great creativity, she composed and performed an eclectic repertoire. Songs that challenged, using words to harm or soothe, from "Mississippi Goddam" to "Four Women" and through "Black is the color of my true love's hair" and her version of "Ne me quitte pas" by Jacques Brel.

Viscerally committed to her freedom, Nina Simone projected a tough character. Her charisma inspired fear and respect. When we did not give her what she wanted, she was going to find it - like when she railed authoritatively against unruly audience members during her concerts.

The documentary also tells the story of Eunice Waymon, the woman. Her sexual freedom, the men who relied on her, her chaotic relationships and her uncertain future.

Consistently wrought by existential questions, and the loss of so many friends, we discover a tortured Nina Simone. Her excesses, her mood swings and desires of a diva.  In fact, she uses her diva status to hide her illness. Bipolar Disorder is revealed later in the film and never ceases to affect her. Becoming unstable, struggling with the IRS, the beautiful and skinny Nina becomes physically damaged by age and health problems.

At 70, after 34 studio albums and thousands of concerts, Nina Simone died in 2003 in Carry-le-Rouet in South of France. She is survived by one daughter and hundreds of thousands of heirs.

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