Beginning her life as one of seven siblings of a poor family in Tyron, North Carolina, Simone was a prodigy at the piano by age four. As she matured, Eunice Waymon earned her money by performing at an Irish club in New York city in 1954, where she was quite literally thrown into the spotlight and was commanded to sing as well as play piano. At this point Waymon recognized her ability to control her audience through timing, pausing and changing the tone of her voice. She also changed her name to Nina Simone: Nina, meaning little one; Simone from the French actress Simone Signoret. (Information borrowed from her official website: www.ninasimone.com.)
Now, among its amazing compilation of entertainment, Eagle Rock Entertainment subsidiary, Eagle Vision, has produced Live At Montreux 1976 by the late Nina Simone. This DVD brings to life the music of this grand performer.
A stunning, spectacular entrance commands complete attention from her audience as Simone steps onto the stage, pauses for what seems like several minutes, wordlessly, looking directly into the audience before seating herself at the piano. Her infectious broad smile garners another round of applause before Simone begins her repertoire.
Beginning at the beginning, Simone opens with "Little Girl Blue," which epitomizes her own humble background, delivering the emotions of a poor young girl raised in the racist south, accentuating the point; the only person a little girl can count on is herself. This is a soft opening before Simone opens up with the feverish "Backlash Blues," telling the story of her son being sent to Viet Nam, while she and her family suffered in second hand housing. Not letting the conditions at home control her, Simone sings of seeking work in other places. Giving props to the drummer, who is keeping the vibrant rhythm on time, Simone continues with her bluesy tale, assuring the government they can’t hold her back. Referring to Langston Hughes, Simone tells in her story line, the encouragement he offered while she was rising to fame.
The audience gushes at the dramatic performance, demanding more as Simone begins her next performance, "Be My Husband." Simone’s performance between the words of the song tells much of her suffering and struggling leading to her success. She makes reference to the chunks taken of her by the corporations. She relates to Janice Joplin’s painful struggle with success.
"I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)" is up-tempo. Simone’s voice reaches a little higher; her piano playing a little more spirited as she reflects how sweet it would be to be free. She gives an inspiring surprise ending to this song. The audience commands more through nearly two minutes applause.
Soft spoken, majestic, Simone tells bits about her journey of life through Africa, Switzerland and France, mentioning her strong desire to acclimate herself to the culture of the French, of her work to learn the language, and of her admiration for their acceptance of her.
After more interaction with her audience, Simone presents "Stars/Feelings" referring to what happens to people as they rise to stardom and begin a decline to obscurity. Another emotional but true story of life’s hardships. Simone’s version of "Feelings" encourages audience participation.
Several rounds of applause command a return from the artist, who then finishes with a climatic "African Mailman."
This does not end the entertainment. Eagle Vision also includes four songs from her 1987 appearance and four songs from her 1990 appearance filmed at her final concert. Included in this amazing footage: "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "My Baby Just Cares For Me." Each performance is regal. Perhaps putting her over the top, Simone performs "I Loves You Porgy" from the masterpiece Porgy & Bess. "Liberian Calypso" is passionate. Simone does an African dance to the frantic beat of drums.
"Four Women/Mississippi Goddam" and "Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me)" were filmed at her final concert. As with her other works, these songs deal with real life in a racist society, stacked against women and peoples of color. Empassioned, bold, striking, the songs represent the truth of the artist in all her magnificence.
Before passing away in France at the age of 70, Nina Simone created a legacy as ‘the’ supreme singer, song writer, pianist, performer, civil rights worker of her time with performances across the globe, including entertaining Nelson Mandella.
Time and space are intimidating to the novice performer. Nina Simone allowed time and space to create a backdrop, command attention and define her art.