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There was a great deal of repression of sexual energies achieved by Nina

to get to Juilliard, including her sacrifice of Edney the Cherokee.

She was 16 and he 18 when she for New York



Nina Simone CDs

Forever Young, Gifted & Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit (2006)  /   Anthology  (2003)   Nina: The Essential Nina Simone  (2000, 2003) 

 The Very Best Of Nina Simone, 1967-1972 : Sugar In My Bowl (1998)  / The Blues (1968, 1991) / Compact Jazz: Nina Simone (1989-1991)

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Nina Remembers in I Put a Spell on You

A Review by Rudolph Lewis


Here it is three years after Nina Simone's death (2003) and ten years  after the publication of I Put a Spell on You (1993) and I am only now taking a serious look at her life, and a fascinating one it was, indeedfrom a backwoods child prodigy to a beloved national and international star.

Nina's memoir, I Put a Spell on You, is excellent in construction. It is called an autobiography. Well, it's not. It is indeed a memoir. There is no intention to tell all. So many details that could have been included were, I suspect, excluded for literary effect. It is a dense drama intended to represent certain aspects of her character and her vision of the world. It is short on reflection and self-analysis Though I have finished the book, I cannot pretend that I know her any better. But I love what she has achieved in this book and its possible implications.

Clearly, she as an adult on her own was a wild woman, a free spirit, frightening to a degree, and, in some ways, to be pitied for her naiveté and trust of others she barely knows. There remains a mystery about her. In fear and awe, men are attracted to such mysteries as Nina. Maybe the evangelism of her early childhood days went deeper, much deeper than she understood herself.

Nina's father before the Depression was the leading breadwinner of the family. This reversed during the Depression and the mother, an itinerant Methodist minister, along with the children, provided much more than the father who lost all his businesses and became ill and unable to rise to his former economic status. The mother because of her work, her ideals, and her religious blindness did not provide the girl children, specifically Nina, the affection they needed and desired.

In her piano teacher "Miz Mazzy," Nina found the motherly affection she needed. In some sense her appraisal, love, and respect of her father declined in that he gave into the power and influence of the mother. One of the sons also became estranged from his father, I suspect, also because his father did not meet the manly standards of the larger society.

Two loving parents do not guarantee a set outcome, as Nina exposes. Loving people in your life are indeed important. Nina had her mother's white employer, Mrs. Miller, who provided the initial money for piano training. Nina had her English music trainer, Muriel Massinovitch  (Miz Mazzy) who was a substitute mother, her "white momma." She had the entire local town (Tryon), including churches, that raised money for her education.

There was a great deal of repression of sexual energies achieved by Nina to get to Juilliard, including her sacrifice of Edney the Cherokee. She was 16 and he 18 when she for New York. She went back 28 years later to rekindle a romance that had long been dead. He had married Nina's best girl friend soon after Nina left Tyron and had by Nina's final return five children; and Nina had two marriages and a daughter. For her to return to her hometown expecting that Edney after all those years would be ready to leave and go off with her was indeed the work of an extraordinary imagination. Edney's mother calls her and tells her that she cannot come again to the house for Edney. That it was now too late. Spitefully, Nina demands a return of her high school graduation photo that had set on the family piano for 28 years. Edney's mother hands it to Nina through her limousine window.

Away in New York frees Nina of some of the sexual restrictions that bound her in the North Carolina mountains. As a result, I suspect, of the mother-daughter conflict, her first best friend became a stylish prostitute. From her she learned a bit about men and their unusual desires.

In response to the apparent weakness of her father, Nina makes a hasty marriage to a white beatnik, Don Ross, a marriage which was a means of dealing with her loneliness. But the marriage didn't work long because her beatnik husband did not possess the work ethic, the drive for success, in which she was instilled. She ended up taking care of him and being as lonely as before. Moreover, the relationship lacked the desired passion. Then she marries a Harlem cop, Andy Stroud, who was rumored to have thrown a man off the roof. Before she marries him, he beats the living daylights out of her; ties her hands behind her back and puts a gun to her head and forces her to interpret the letters of Edney she had kept over the years. Before they married, soon after, Shroud claims he did not remember the incident.

After her marriage Andy takes over managing her career, which eventually leads to problems with the IRS. According to Nina, she signed no contracts and allowed him to deal with setting up the businesses and handling her money. She says she did not know how much money she had: "Ask Andy." As the story is being told there is a suggestion that this relationship, this marriage, will end tragically with many recriminations. We are kept in suspense until near the end of the book. And again there are few details. Maybe it was the intent to protect her daughter, Lisa Celeste.

In the memoir, there certainly is an extraordinary reversal, that is, from an alienation from the mother (a seeming hatred) to a fierce hatred of a father she adored, coming immediately after her break with her 2nd husband (Andy Stroud). It was like a lightning storm, seemingly provoked by the smallest of things. 

Being a star made her fiercely alone. No one seemed to have prepared her for that. Maybe there is no preparation to soothe the ills of genius, especially when it desires full freedom. The politics of the book and the relationship she had with political activists seem a minor note, though she was indeed a political activist, of sorts, and deeply sympathetic to the civil rights movement and toward SNCC's black power activists, like Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown. But her expressions comes off as a kind of ranting. Certainly, she was not a nationalist, though some of her songs, like "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," were nationalistic. "Four Women" might be the first black feminist song.

Maybe she was disturbed. With genius and privilege we enter a new realm of being, a different way of existing in the world. Surely, according to her memoir, this is the case with Nina. I wonder whether the "disturbed" or the "lost of mind" aspects people note are not tinged with moral judgments. For instance, she had a proclivity in certain settings of pulling off her clothes, and dancing naked in public. How much of this was influenced by her revolt against early childhood evangelism, her mother's puritan morality, and her father's lack of manliness (seemingly) is anyone's guess.

These acts might have been influenced by her attraction to white bohemianism (on two continents). Then she had a tendency towards excessive drinking, gin and champagne. In some sense, she has a lot in common with the LeRoi Jones of Greenwich Village portrayed by Amiri Baraka. Then there are probably her notions of the privileges of stardom and fame, and her notions of what personal freedom means, and her desire for and to be associated with “black power,” all of which she relished, seemingly as a result of her desires for security and self worth. At our best, I suspect we can say, that was Nina, and leave it at that.  There are a number of episodes that seem quite revealing but then seem no more than good healthy fun, that is, in the telling.

There is her attempt to seduce Louis Farrakhan. She notes his small feetthe smallest she had ever seen on a man. He wanted to talk politics and she continued to watch his feet and drink gin. Finally she asks him to go with her upstairs. He continued to talk politicsso she sent him home. There is also her relationship with Wilhelm Langenberg (Big Willy), through whom she became "a Philips artist." Nina writes, "Andy got angry with me over something and Big Willy stepped in and said, 'Andy, look at you, you have no deep sense of your colour you don't really know who you are. Nina has colour and she has the weight of forty million people on her back. You know you should be gentle with her'. I don't know who was more shocked, Andy or me."

Later, after splitting with Andy, she goes to Holland, has dinner with Big Willy, returns to her hotel room, and Nina writes, "I got to my knees and bared my breasts, took my dress down and said, 'I've come to marry you, because you always said that you should marry me if I wasn't married to Andy'." After getting down on his knees with her, Big Willy declines and walks out of the room. Big Willy was invested in apartheid. He died a few months later.

There's also an interesting episode in I Put a Spell on You between Nina Simone and C.C. Dennis, a Liberian plantation owner, which occurs after an episode with a Liberian witch doctor, which helps her to sort out her relationship with her father. Dennis was 70 and she in her mid-30s. C.C. was, Nina writes, "more exciting and attractive than any man I had ever met half his age." This interchange goes on for several pages.

She continues, "out in the forest in this huge mansion I wasn't the same woman I was in my house by the ocean." Though a liberated woman, Nina liked commanding men. C.C. told her, "In Africa men are the boss." (You may recall she married a Harlem cop who she feared.) C.C. promised her (this was in the mid-70s) $25,000 a year to spend as she liked and marriage, a role as his wife, if she could bring him to life. "It was not a success. I crept back to my own room sore, physically sore, and confused." She did not provide details.

During the military coup in 1980, Nina writes, "C.C. Dennis died two weeks later, his heart broken. Before he died he burnt his mansion to the ground so Samuel Doe's men couldn't take it. They say C.C. and Martha Prout [the younger woman C.C. married] were among those people paraded naked through the streets. It could have been me." During the late 70s and early 80s Nina did indeed go through some tough times even threats of arrest as a result of tax problems. But she recovered. Her fans loved her and wanted her to be an unquenchable star.

Nina also took on younger lovers in Barbados and Liberia. But clearly she was attracted to older men with power. By the time this book was written Nina was about 60. She seemed to have sorted out her personal life and her career. Ironically, she seemed to have been guilty of the same maternal neglect of which she accused her mother that caused her considerable emotional turmoil. That conflict seemed, however, near the end of her life resolved. It would indeed be of interest to read Lisa Celeste and her memories of her mother.

One is left wondering, How much of Nina's character is representative of all American black women? As far as we can see through her eyes, Nina's mother and father had a partnership relationship. He was not the ornamentation that Nina found in younger men. Seemingly, for her mother, he played a vital role as husband and father. But he was not "boss" in the C.C. (African) sense of the word. Her father was no patriarchal (commander like Andy Shroud or the PM of Barbados or C.C. or Big Willy) figure.

For Nina, it seems, because her father was not boss, he was not fully man and when she overheard him lying to his son that he was more than a partner, but rather fully the boss of the family, Nina concluded that not only was he not full man (carrying the economic weight of the family and thus able to make decisions beyond his wife) but he was also a liar and someone that she could not trust at all. Thus the break with her father. Is this the "natural" impulse of American black women, namely, a rejection of black men who only pretend to have a "big voice," when power actually lies in other quarters? Clearly, Nina throughout much of her life suffered from insecurity and loneliness.

Her father, the most important man in her life, to a point, could never save her from either malady. Did she demand too much? Children always do. And maybe too many American black women demand too much of their men, or not enough of that which they can indeed provide, namely, love and respect.

posted 3 July 2006

Ain't Got No...I've Got Life (video) / Four Women (video) / / Feelings (video)

Harlem Festival, Part 2 (video)  / Harlem Festival, Part 3  (video) / Harlem festival, Part 4 (video)

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Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.

Born the sixth child of a preacher's family in North Carolina, Simone aspired to be a concert pianist. Her musical path changed direction after she was denied a scholarship to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, despite a well-received audition. Simone was later told by someone working at Curtis that she was rejected because she was black. When she began playing in a small club in Philadelphia to fund her continuing musical education and become a classical pianist she was required to sing as well. She was approached for a recording by Bethlehem Records, and her rendering of "I Loves You Porgy" was a hit in the United States in 1958. Over the length of her career Simone recorded more than 40 albums, mostly between 1958—when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue—and 1974. Her musical style arose from a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music, in particular with influences from her first inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied with her expressive jazz-like singing in her characteristic contralto. for equal rights in the US.—wikipedia

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Nina SimoneKalamu ya SalaamNina is not her name. Nina is our name. Nina is how we call ourselves remade into an uprising. Eunice Waymon started out life as a precocious child prodigy—amazingly gifted at piano. She went to church, sang, prayed and absorbed all the sweat of the saints: the sisters dropping like flies and rising like angels all around her. Big bosoms clad in white. Tambourine-playing, cotton-chopping, tobacco-picking, corn-shucking, floor-mopping, child-birthing, man-loving hands. The spray of sweat and other body secretions falling on young Eunice's face informing her music for decades to come with the fluid fire of quintessential Black musicking.

But there was also the conservatory and the proper way to approach the high art of music. The curve of the hands above the keyboard. The ear to hear and mind to understand the modulations in and out of various keys. The notes contained in each chord. She aspired to be a concert pianist. But at root she was an obeah woman. With voice and drum she could hold court for days, dazzle multitudes, regale us with the splendor, enrapture us with the serpentine serendipity of her black magic womanistness articulated in improvised, conjured incantations. "My daughter said, mama, sometimes I don't understand these people. I told her I don't understand them either but I'm born of them, and I like it." Nina picked up Moses' writhing rod, swallowed it and now hisses back into us the stories of our souls on fire. Hear me now, on fire.

My first memory of Nina is twofold. One that music critics considered her ugly and openly said so. And two that she was on the Tonight show back in the late fifties/very early sixties singing "I Love You Porgy." Both those memories go hand in hand. Both those memories speak volumes about what a Black woman could and could not do in the Eisenhower era. They called her ugly because she was Black. Literally. Dark skinned. In the late fifties, somewhat like it is now, only a tad more adamant, couldn't no dark skinned woman be pretty. In commercial terms, the darker the uglier. Nina was dark.

My first memory of Nina is twofold. One that music critics considered her ugly and openly said so. And two that she was on the Tonight show back in the late fifties/very early sixties singing "I Love You Porgy." Both those memories go hand in hand. Both those memories speak volumes about what a Black woman could and could not do in the Eisenhower era. They called her ugly because she was Black. Literally. Dark skinned. In the late fifties, somewhat like it is now, only a tad more adamant, couldn't no dark skinned woman be pretty. In commercial terms, the darker the uglier. Nina was dark.

She sang "Porgy" darkly. Made you know that the love she sang about was the real sound of music, and that Julie Andrews didn't have a clue. Was something so deep, so strong that I as a teenager intuitively realized that Nina's sound was both way over my head and was also the water within which my soul was baptized. Which is probably why I liked it, and is certainly why my then just developing moth wings sent me shooting toward the brilliant flashes of diamond bright lightening which shot sparking cobalt blue and ferrous red out of the black well of her mouth. This was some elemental love. Some of the kind of stuff I would first read about in James Baldwin's Another Country, a book that America is still not ready to understand. Love like that is what Nina's sound is.

Her piano was always percussive. It hit you. Moved you. Socked it to you. She could hit one note and make you sit up straight. Do things to your anatomy. That was Nina. Made a lot of men wish their name was Porgy. That's the way she sang that song. I wanted to grow up and be Porgy. Really. Wanted to grow up and get loved like Nina was loving Porgy. For a long time, I never knew nobody else sang that song. Who else could possibly invest that song with such a serious message, serious meaning? Porgy was Nina's man. Nina's song. She loved him. And he was well loved.

In my youth, I didn't think she was ugly. Nor did I didn't think she was beautiful. She just looked like a dark Black woman. With a bunch of make-up on in the early days. Later, I realized what she really looked like was an African mask. Something to shock you into a realization that no matter how hard you tried, you would never ever master white beauty because that is not what you were. Fundamental Blackness. Severe lines. Severe, you hear me. I mean, you hear Nina. Dogonic, chiseled features. Bold eyes. Ancient eyes. Done seen and survived slavery eyes. A countenance so serious that only hand carved mahogany or ebony could convey the features. . . .—wordup

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#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”

Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''

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Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

Her Voice   / Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond  

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.

The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.Jamie Byng, Guardian

/ Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest.

Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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update 11 April 2012




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Related files: Bio-Chronology   Nina Simone: The Emotional Depths of the Spirit World  Nina Remembers   Remembering Nina  Four Women  To be Young, Gifted and Black 

Well Done, Miss Simone