#QueerHeroes Day 25.
It’s extremely daunting to try and distill the magnificence that is Nina Simone into just a few paragraphs.
For decades, her voice has been the fuel for strides towards liberation and justice. Her work is an example of the necessity of art in revolution.
Born Eunice Waymon, Nina was trained as a classical pianist and could play anything by ear. Though she was an accomplished songwriter, she also had a knack for invigorating well known standards, enlivening them to fit the turbulent times she witnessed.
If there’s a soundtrack to a revolution in America that doesn’t include her voice, it’s incomplete. Inspired by her dear friend, fellow activist, and iconic playwright Lorraine Hansberry, Nina wrote “To Be Young Gifted and Black,” which includes the lyrics:
“Young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There’s a world waiting for you
This is a quest that’s just begun.”
If you have any doubt of her ability to sonically transport you to a moment in history, listen to “Why? The King of Love Is Dead,” her commemoration written after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Will the murders never cease
Are thy men or are they beasts?
What do they ever hope, ever hope to gain?
Will my country fall, stand or fall?
Is it too late for us all?
And did Martin Luther King just die in vain?”
What’s gonna happen now? In all of our cities?
My people are rising; they’re living in lies
Even if they have to die
Even if they have to die at the moment they know what life is
Even at that one moment that ya know what life is
If you have to die, it’s all right
Cause you know what life is
You know what freedom is for one moment of your life
What’s gonna happen now that the King is dead?”
Nina Simone died in body in 2003, but you’ve seen her spirit in the streets these past weeks and in the conviction of the millions her immortal voice inspires.