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The High Priestess

I’ll be performing in my first solo show in two weeks, partly out of a personal quest to do things that might scare me and push me beyond my boundaries à la the famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you”. I’m stepping out from the choirs and crowds of people that have protected and sheltered me for some time and will venture to go it alone – well perhaps not entirely alone as I will have one security blanket, a piano.

flickr-1565688564-hdOne person that I will be channeling the night of my show is the late, great Nina Simone. I’ll be performing several of Nina’s trademark pieces, hopefully bringing my own unique spin when I’m behind the keys and microphone.

My love for Nina goes beyond enjoying the intensity and emotion and musicality that she brought to each song she touched, but it’s also about Nina the individual – the classically trained artist who sought to bend and subvert genres; and, equally important, the activist and the great dame of chutzpah and sass, all wrapped up in a beautiful, bold and defiant package. This Nina is my great inspiration.

I heard one of my favourite Nina stories a few months ago on a Canadian radio show. Nina Simone’s daughter was being interviewed because, at the time, there was some controversy over the casting choice for an upcoming Nina biopic. The actress Zoë Saldana was cast to play Nina – a move that upset many, including Nina’s daughter, who believed the choice was a clear indication that the producers of the film clearly didn’t ‘get’ Nina, and the impact and importance inherent in her high melanin skin. Nina’s daughter –and I agree with her on this point – felt that the producers of the film did not understand the ‘colour politics’ in the black community at the time Nina was growing up (and one that still exists to this day). The choice of a light-skinned woman to play the dark skinned Nina was controversial to say the least.  It’s not to say that Zoë Saldana couldn’t or wouldn’t do a great job –she’s a fine actress –but casting a ‘Zoë-type’ wouldn’t do justice to Nina’s legacy and wouldn’t serve to best represent how her dark blackness would have impacted her life, including her career opportunities. But I digress…

Besides discussing the biopic, Nina’s daughter relayed this great story, which I think is representative of the political being Nina would become – the person who wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself, the woman with integrity, the woman who could (and would) be the bitch if she felt she was being undermined: as a young girl, Nina studied classical piano and had her lessons paid for by a few patrons in her North Carolina town. Keep in mind that Nina was born in 1933 and, as we all know, the United States was still virulently hostile to blacks. One day Nina was to perform before members of her town. Her parents were also there to see her perform, but it being the pre-Civil rights era, they weren’t permitted to sit in the front row. Nina, still in elementary school at the time, was defiant and determined: she wouldn’t play if her parents weren’t allowed to remain in the front row.

In my mind’s eye I see a young girl in a pressed Sunday-best dress, hands balled up in a tight fist, looking up at the concert organizers with big bright defiant eyes. I imagine that, on the inside, she was slightly scared and nervous, but on the outside she was as solid as a rock, impenetrable and unmovable. There was no way that they could say no – not to the young girl who would become the “High Priestess of Soul”.

Signing off.


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  1. Ryan Kuffner

    Good one

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. The Y Variable

    Thank you! 🙂

  3. The Y Variable

    Thanks Ryan!

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