Nina Simone: TURNING PAIN into Artistic Power


“I can’t stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer
Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail

Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last”

Nina Simone wrote these lyrics for “Mississippi Goddam,” a powerful anthem for the civil rights movement.  She channeled her anger at the evil happening in the South, including the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. 

In an interview with NPR, Simone said, “I was trying to write a song that would galvanize people to do something. To get involved. To realize that they had to make a change. That they couldn’t just sit around and watch this happen.”

Nina Simone, born Eunice Waymon in 1933, was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist. She was a classically trained pianist and had dreams of becoming the first Black female concert pianist, but the systemic racism of her time prevented her from achieving that goal. Despite this setback, Simone went on to become a groundbreaking musician, blending classical, jazz, and blues into a unique sound that would inspire generations of artists to come.

Simone’s life and work offer valuable lessons on how to harness your creativity into artistic power. Here are three tips that we can learn from her:

  1. Use your pain as fuel for your creativity

Simone’s life was marked by many struggles, including poverty, discrimination, and abuse. However, she used these experiences as fuel for her creative expression, channeling her pain and anger into her music. In her song “Four Women,” she tells the stories of four Black women, each with a different skin tone and backstory, but all facing the same struggle for survival and dignity. Simone’s ability to take her pain and transform it into art is a powerful lesson.

  1. Embrace your uniqueness and create your own path

Simone’s music was a fusion of different genres and styles, and she refused to be pigeonholed into any one category. She embraced her uniqueness and created her own path, even when it meant going against the grain. Her cover of “Feeling Good” is a great example of her ability to take a familiar song and make it her own, with a new arrangement and vocal interpretation. By embracing her individuality and refusing to conform, Simone shared a truly unique voice that forces people to stop and listen.

  1. Use your art to make a difference in the world

Simone was not content to simply create beautiful music; she also used her platform to make a difference in the world. She was a vocal advocate for civil rights and social justice, and her music often reflected her political views. Her song “Mississippi Goddam” is a scathing critique of the racism and violence that Black people faced in the South, and it became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. By using her art to shed light on important issues and to promote positive change, Simone demonstrated the power of creativity to effect social and political change.

Nina Simone’s life and work are a testament to the power of creativity to transform pain into beauty, to embrace our uniqueness and create our own path, and to use our art to make a difference in the world. Her legacy lives on in the artists she inspired, and in the lessons she taught us about the nature of creativity and the human spirit.

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