Jazz festival pays tribute to Nina Simone

AFRICAN AMERICAN SINGER and civil rights activist Nina Simone was celebrated at the Montreux Jazz Festival in a tribute by four black women to the ‘High Priestess of Soul’.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 14 Jul 2009, 10:13 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:31 PM

Her daughter Lisa, known by the stage name ‘Simone’, as well as Dianne Reeves, LizzWright and Angelique Kidjo, sang numbers from her repertoire including I Loves you Porgy, My Baby Just Cares for Me, Feeling Good, and Ne Me Quitte Pas.

They joined together for an encore of Four Women, written by Simone in 1966 as a bitter lament of four black women of varying skin tone.

“We’re having a fine time celebrating the legacy of my mother. Had she known it, she would have said ‘let me sit back and see how much the world loves me’,” Lisa Simone told the Saturday night crowd before singing Keeper of the Flame.

“This has been a dream of mine for a very long time,” said the daughter of the jazz musician who used her music as a vehicle for social commentary. Nina Simone died in France in 2003.

‘Sing the Truth’

Claude Nobs, founder of the Swiss festival now in its 43rd year, opened the show billed as ‘Sing the Truth: Homage to Nina Simone’.

He recalled her four appearances at the festival and visiting her when she lived in the Swiss town of Nyon in the 1970s.

“She was giving piano lessons for 10 Swiss francs an hour. She didn’t have the success she deserved in records or the concert business,” Nobs said.

Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon in North Carolina in 1933, one of eight children of a poor family. She began playing the piano by ear at the age of three. She said later she was denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia because of racism.

Success came with a 1958 recording of George Gershwin’s I Loves you Porgy from the opera Porgy and Bess, about life in the black slums of the South. Wright opened with the Simone classic, followed by Old Jim Crow, about racial segregation.

Grammy Award-winning singer Kidjo, who is from Benin, noted Simone had lived in Africa. “She gave back to girls in Africa — education and empowerment.”

“She would always speak her mind and the truth. That rubbed off on me,” said the singer-songwriter.

Kidjo performed To be Young, Gifted and Black, written by Simone in memory of Lorraine Hansberry, author of Raisin in the Sun. It became an r&b hit and civil rights anthem in 1970.

American jazz singer Reeves, another Grammy winner, came closest to capturing Simone’s deep vocal tones, with moody renditions of I Put a Spell On You and Be My Husband.

“Steeped in blues jazz was Nina. She embodied every facet. She was a mentor,” said Reeves.

“This is such a special celebration. We up here feel her spirit, she lives with us constantly. You have received her legacy as have we — sorrow, happiness and unrequited love,” said her long-time musical director and guitarist Al Schackman. “She could be fiery and also demure.”

Naturally 7, a New York a cappella group whose voices mimic instruments, and Haitian-born rap star Wyclef Jean followed on stage at the Stravinski Auditorium in the early hours of Sunday.

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