Nina Simone was one of America’s most influential musicians and an icon of 20th century music, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21st, 1933. Her talent was evident by the age of three where she learned to play the piano by ear. She started to study classical music by Englishwoman Muriel Mazzanovich, from there she developed her love of classical composers, such as: Chopin, Bach, Bramhs, Beethovan and Shubert. During her studies of classical composers, her community raised the money for her to attend the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York. It is there that she honed her skills and became America’s most venerated musicians, from there the world would know Nina Simone as the High Priestess of Soul.Simone’s music was heavily political, from her empowering “Mississippi Goddamn” to her “backlash Blues”, these songs she did not shy away from the raw visceral pain she was subject to as a black woman from the south of America. It was through these political songs that she became a cultural icon. Political Slavery was abolished after the American Civil War in the 1860s. The reconstruction of the constitution sought to secure the civil rights of African-Americans, for this short time African-American’s enjoyed voting rights and some held political office. However, that all changed during the Jim Crow era, Jim Crow laws were introduced between 1890 till 1910. These laws were introduced to segregate African-American people to non-African-Americans, these laws aimed to disenfranchise African-American people before which they were able to vote and hold political office before the laws were put in place. At the beginning of the 1950s and 60s, the civil rights movement began to take shape; from Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcom X and the Black Panthers. The civil rights movement aimed to outlaw racial discrimination of African-American people through staged protests, marches, sit-ins’ and boycotts; these all protests were all non-violent.
At the start of the 1960s, a Democratic government was in power under a JFK administration until his assassination in 1962, then a Lyndon B Johnson administration took over which saw the most social change during which saw the law that segregated black people. Lyndon B Johnson championed the passage of the Civil Rights Bill which JFK spearheaded until his death, in November he addressed a joint secession of congress he urged the passage of the bill. He said in congress “no memorial oration or eulogy could be more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory, than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill”. Simon was heavily active in the civil rights movement, she recorded several Protest songs some became civil rights anthems, she was also in attendance at the march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King Jr.
The song “Mississippi Goddamn” was the most racially focused song from her repertoire. The song is about the racially motivated killing of NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People) activist Medgar Evers; and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young black children. The song was banned from radio from the south as it was deemed to racially motivated, the song captures the response of both the murder and the bombing. Simone does not shy away from the hurt, pain and anger she feels, the first line she sings “Alabama got me so upset, Tennessee made me lose my rest and everybody knows about Mississippi goddamn”. She shouts the pain that the old Jim Crow laws have done to her and her community, saying “all I want is equality, for my sister, my brother, my brother and me”. The last line of the song says, “you don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality”. This song is the built-up anger that has been building up in her community due to the segregation. In the Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? She was asked to describe freedom, she reiterates “freedom for me means no fear”. She describes why she wrote the song “Mississippi Goddamn”, she wrote the song out of anger she could not stand it anymore that young girls were killed so mercilessly, and a young man murdered, she comments saying “first ya get depressed, then ya get mad”. After she sang the song she got so angry that her voice broke, in her journal she said, “I don’t mind going without food or sleep as long as I am doing something worthwhile to me such as this”. She knew that she must get political in her songs, although she was quite reluctant, it took the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church for the activist in Nina Simone to blossom; she commented saying “how you can be an artist and not reflect the times”.
In Simone’s politically motivated song: “Old Jim Crow” she asks the question “old Jim Crow, where have you been? Down in Mississippi again” she knows that the laws are back again to segregate black people. However, she acknowledges that it’s not the name, but rather the actions of the Jim Crow, saying “it ain’t your name, but the things that you do”. All through the song she cries “it’s all over now…. you’ve been around too long”, she is conscious that these laws have been around far too long and the fact that the African-Americans in 1964 finally got the rights that they deserved, acknowledges that the Jim Crow Laws are all over now. During the 60s, African- American gained significant legislative and legal protection such as the Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Voting Rights Act 1965. It was these two pieces of legislation that African-American people fought so hard to achieve, the Civil Rights Act was the most comprehensive and far reaching piece of legislation in America. The provisions set out in the act prohibit racial segregation and discrimination in public accommodation and guarantees equal rights. The act was challenged but was over turned by the Supreme Court.
Following the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Simone wrote the song “Why? (The King of Love is Dead), this is both melancholic and political, but at the same time serves as a warning to people that it will not stop the fight for equality. In the second verse, she somberly sings “he was a non-violent man, bigotry sealed his fate”, this speaks volumes about the fight for racial equality, Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968 four years after the Civil Rights Act which he so passionately fought for.
Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements, it is broken down in three “waves”; first, second and third wave feminism. First Wave Feminism came about during the 19th century and the 20th century in the UK and the USA. It focused on the promotion of women’s rights such as: voting rights and property rights. After the first wave came the second wave. Second Wave Feminism came about during the 1960s and lasted for almost three decades, it saw women’s culture and political inequalities linked together and encouraged women to understand aspects of their personally held political beliefs and reflective of the sexist power structure. Its aims were to increase equality for woman by gaining more than just enfranchisement, at the time Simone would have been active during the Second Wave Feminism. In the 1960s there was a stark contrast between white middle class American females and African-American females, white females would stay at home and look after the house and children while the men would work; however, the same could not be said for their Africa-American counterparts. Both the men and women would go out and work, the men would be laborers’, and the females would be house maids for the white middle class females.