At our great library, I just picked up a great new DVD release, “WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE”. 2 disks, one a CD with 15 of Nina Simone recordings. I still have, and often still listen to her first, which included “Little Girl Blue” , “I Loves you, Porgy”, “Don’t Smoke in Bed”, “Black is the Color”, “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. This one includes those as well as some other knock-out renditions, like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, “Night Song”, and “Ne Me Quitte Pas” sung in French, in the country she died in.
The NETFLIX Movie itself, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, and won other rewards. While interesting, I found it too depressing to watch last night, but intend to try again later this week. I knew she was not a very cheerful person, but was unaware of how serious her bipolarity was. I wanted to baste in my happy moments of discovering her around 1958, while living a bachelor’s life in DC, after my discharge, getting my degree from American U., and having a decent job in the new and quickly growing field of computers.
I was driving home about 11PM after some social event, listening to WMAL, when the disk jockey played a couple of Nina’s songs, and announced that she was now performing at the Charles Hotel in Washington. He even gave its address, and I realized I was very close. It was only after I parked and entered the basement bar of the hotel that I realized it was a negro hotel, and I was the only white person there except for one other man, sitting at the bar, who turned out to be the disk jockey I had been listening to. The performance was outstanding on many counts, not the least of which was Nina’s performance on the piano as well. On the “Little Girl Blue” number, she starts by playing the Xmas music for “Good King Wenceslas”, and then, while continuing to play that melody, she sings the lyrics of “Little Girl Blue”. At various times while playing piano, she just made guttural noises, playing with her vocal chords as if they were another musical instrument. And another thing she did that I’ve never seen done by another cabaret singer. When she heard any voice in the room while she was singing, she just stopped her performance sitting quietly until the only thing people were able to hear was a suddenly embarrassed inebriated audience member.
About ten years later, after Martin Luther King's assassination, this section of the District of Columbia was the site of a 6 day riot. Many of the buildings around that area were damaged.