I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Nina Simone and over time becoming friends with her. I have never met a more talented or complicated person in my life.
Nina could be little girl blue; she could also be—like she was on her second visit to Morning Becomes Eclectic–an angry, tempestuous diva who referred to herself as Dr. Simone, in the third person. That was a hell of an interview, and you can find it on a special I did on Nina a while ago on Rhythm Planet @ KCRW.com, my blog and program.
A jazz columnist friend of mine once worked at RCA Records in NYC, where Nina was under contract. She set up a meeting, walked into office, sat down, put a revolver on the desk, and said “I’m here to discuss my royalties”. She did the same later with Chanel in Paris after they used “my baby just cares for me” in a perfume campaign.
Nina had two mothers: her birth mother and her white mother, Muriel Massanovich, who took her in, taught her classical technique and piano performance etiquette. Nina never meant to sing; she only started singing after being turned down the Curtis Institute. After learning classical piano repertoire for many years, Nina wound up singing in an Irish Bar in New Jersey, and made her 1st record when she was 25 in 1958.
Nina only had a one-octave range as a singer, but she made up for it by having perfect pitch. Nina also was able to anchor her mood swings with her prodigious piano technique. Once she was at the keyboard, she was in total control. And even though she became famous as a pop and jazz singer, Nina always treasured the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which she learned from Mrs. Massanovich. Just listen to “Little Girl Blue” to see what I mean.
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