A Response to What Happened, Miss Simone?

Publicity still from What Happened, Miss Simone?

“What Happened, Miss Simone?”… a title taken from Maya Angelou’s words when she was reflecting on the life and career of Nina Simone.

I, being a fellow black citizen, was lucky enough to have the opportunity to watch this documentary during my free time in order to connect and educate myself more about my culture. 

When I was watching the documentary, I found it very interesting and insightful. Immediately when watching the trailer I could automatically tell that Simone was a black power icon who was once a loved musician but she did have her downfall due to her mental health worsening. However, she was able to end on a high which I will reveal shortly in my summary…

What I found interesting when watching this documentary was her definition of what freedom was. And to her, it was simply “having no fear”. Throughout her life she was able to show that she still had the ambitious goal of becoming the first black classical pianist in America. However, she had to face many obstacles; being told that “her nose was too big”; “her lips were too full” and “her skin was too dark”. She spent the summer at Juilliard and later applied to The Curtis Institute of Music but was rejected, a radicalising moment for her as a black musician – “I knew I was good enough, but they turned me down”. 

Interestingly enough, when she was trying to make a living during her time at Julliard, she actually changed her name from what used to be Eunice Waylon to the well known Nina Simone. This was due to the fact that she didn’t want her parents to find out that she was making her living playing “the devil’s music”. 

However she was able to start progressing when, in 1960, she became recognised as an artist and was put in Newport Festival where she performed an unexpected hit “I love you, Porgy”. Despite this unpredicted high, her New York producers didn’t want to help her achieve her overall goal to become the classical player that she dreamed of being. This is due to the fact that she’d earned her acclaim performing jazz music, not classical.

Inevitably, what goes up must come down… she only started making a couple of hundred dollars per night in her performances due to her increasing mental instability caused by a multitude of personal issues. Her producers sent her to a house in Holland where she had a doctor put her on Trilafon which although had its side effects, did help her tremendously get back in the game where people began referring to her as “African royalty”; “genius” amongst other things. 

Nina Simone continued touring all around the world and was nominated for 15 Grammys. And the school that rejected her originally…awarded her an honorary diploma. 

So this is the story of Nina Simone that I wanted to share to honour Black History Month as a way to show that the world is in need of changes to allow people to be who they truly are. Because, who knows what could’ve happened if we all had the chance to be who we wanted to be without the hallenges and difficulties. I shall leave you all to dwell on that.

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