Join us for a documentary film on famed singer Nina Simone. A $10 donation includes admission to the screening, snacks, and the introduction by Larry Lapidus. Beer and wine will be available at an additional cost. Open to the public – everyone is welcome.
GARY, IN – Even the unconverted will have their chance to worship at the shrine of the “High Priestess of Soul” when the Oscar-nominated documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” reveals some insight into the troubled history and mercurial talents of performer Nina Simone.
Sponsored by the Miller Beach Arts & Creative District, the 2015 Sundance Film Festival opener will screen at 7 p.m. Saturday, February 20 at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in the Miller Beach section of Gary.
Larry Lapidus, Lyric Opera of Chicago lecturer and program director, will introduce and discuss the film, which takes its title from a Maya Angelou quote. It’s part of the MBACD’s celebration of Black History Month.
The sixth of eight children, Simone was born in North Carolina in 1933; she began playing the piano at three, gave her first recital at 12, and aspired to be a concert pianist. Later, she supported herself by playing “cocktail piano” at a night club in Atlantic City, where the owner told her she had to sing as well, thus laying the groundwork for the creation of a jazz legend.
“I think Nina Simone’s voice is remarkably unique,” Lapidus said. “We hear so many lovely voices today, but Miss Simone’s had resonance, depth, conviction, soul, and beauty. She was classically trained and there are moments when this becomes evident. No singer of her genre had ever had that type of training. She idolized Johann Sebastian Bach.”
Dubbed Eunice Kathleen Waymon at birth, the singer assumed her stage name in 1954. “Nina,” “little girl” in Spanish, was a nickname given to her by a former boyfriend. “Simone” came from French actress Simone Signoret. Knowing her mother, a Methodist minister, wouldn’t approve, Simone used her stage name to keep her career concealed. She recorded more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974.
Beginning with her debut album for the Dutch Philips label, Simone openly addressed racial inequality. “A civil rights message was standard in Simone’s recording repertoire, becoming part of her live performances,” Lapidus explained. “She performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, such as Selma and Montgomery (Alabama) marches. She advocated violent revolution, rather than Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach. She became a pariah because of this unpopular philosophy.”
The singer was also becoming newsworthy for her outrageous temper. Simone fired a gun at a record company executive in 1985, wounded a neighbor’s son with an air gun 10 years later, ripped a pay phone out of the wall in a temper tantrum, and held a shoe store cashier at gunpoint. She secretly suffered from bipolar disorder, had breast cancer for several years, and died in her sleep on April 21, 2003.
Simone’s resurgence in popularity may have come about, according to Lapidus, because audiences are finally putting her personal and public personas in perspective. “Folks may think they’ve ‘discovered a forgotten jazz legend’ because, over the years, many have finally let go of what they have heard or read about her personal demons and – even more so – her sometimes bad behavior on stage.”
Musicians from Adele to David Bowie, Bono to Lena Horne, Cat Stevens to Alicia Keys, have cited Simone as a major influence. Kanye West, Common, and The Animals have covered or sampled her songs. John Lennon claimed her version of “I Put a Spell on You” inspired The Beatles’ “Michelle.” Her music has been featured in commercials, television shows and films as diverse as “The Big Lebowski,” “Sex and the City,” and “La Femme Nikita.”
“Nina Simone will never be forgotten,” Lapidus said. “Very few artists in the past, let alone today, had the ability to mesmerize an audience like Miss Simone. She sang exactly what she felt. Every song told a story – and not necessarily a good or happy one. She didn’t just ‘sing’ her music, she ‘performed’ it. Who could combine jazz, blues, and folk with a classical structure like Simone? She literally cannot be imitated and, certainly, never forgotten.”
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” will screen Saturday, February 20 at 7 p.m. at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts, 540 S. Lake St., Gary, IN. A $10 donation includes admission to the screening, snacks, and the introduction by Larry Lapidus. Beer and wine will be available at an additional cost.