Life, Soul, and Revolution: Celebrating the Timelessness of Nina Simone

by Jasmyne K. Rogers

A beautiful cultural movement brewed in the wake of the world’s overwhelming ugliness. The longstanding physical and ideological concept of “blackness” transformed and shifted into a new and growing love, passion, respect, and power for being black, especially a black woman.

The Black is Beautiful cultural movement contrived an awakening for society in the 1960s—a movement started in South Africa that fueled the change and challenged the perception of black beauty. The movement soon heightened and became a catalyst for change in America after the Civil Rights movement had ended. The Black is Beautiful cultural movement also aligned with the brewing Black Power movement. In the late 1960s, black people proclaimed their blackness unapologetically.

Beautiful and vibrant colors from the motherland adorned their skin as they proudly exclaimed, “Black is beautiful! ”and “Black power!” Their hair was their own—natural and free. Their minds were their own. Their lives were their own. They found beauty and power in the alleged ugliness and inferiority that society and media outlets manipulated as blackness. The music back then gave rise to social change. The music was revolutionary. Music was and still remains one of the most instrumental platforms to dismantle society’s perceptions and misconceived notions of blackness.

Photo: PBS
In 2015, I am indulging in one of my YouTube “mini-concerts.” I love watching classic, ol’ school performances of black music artists. I am watching a live performance from a concert in 1965 in Holland. The video is in black and white, but the picture quality is vivid. A crowd of what looks like a majority of white people claps in unison as a beautiful black woman plays a piano. Her fro is shapely high and metaphorically reminds me of a black queen, to be exact, Queen Nzingha who was the queen of Ndongo, what is now known as Angola in South Africa. Her voice is strong and soulful—the rare kind of soulfulness that you can only find in a small juke joint in the backwoods of a southern town. She passionately bellows out:

Alabama’s gotten me so upset 
Tennessee made me lose my rest

And everyone knows about Mississippi


By the end of the song, the tempo has picked up and her strong and soulful voice is oxymoronically laced with deeply rooted pain and hope. She sings of the unrest in Alabama and Mississippi. She sings of equality for black people. She sings of the ugliness of American society—race, gender, and class issues. She sings of revolutions—microcosmic revolutions that were significantly apparent in her music.

This song in particular, “Mississippi, Goddam,” was Simone’s personal response to the death of Medgar Evers that occurred in Mississippi in 1963 at the brutal hands of racism. The fight and right for freedom was a common thread in Simone’s songs.

At a Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, she sits at a piano in front of a large crowd of black people, who clap in unison, wearing their naturals and Afros in unison, and who are undoubtedly united. The beautiful black woman wore her hair high, resembling a beehive, metaphorically reminding me of Queen Candace, who was an empress of Ethiopia. Her voice is lowly soulful and soothing as she begins describing four archetypes of black women:

My skin is black
My arms are long

My hair is woolly

My back is strong

Strong enough to take the pain 

Inflicted again and again

What do they call me?
My name is Aunt Sarah

“Four Women” dismantles the stereotypes surrounding black women. Nina Simone draws upon the strengths and roots of these four archetypes of black women. Each of the four women are essential: Aunt Sarah—reflecting the matriarch, Saffronia—being of mixed race due to rape, Sweet Thing—exuding sexual promiscuity, and Peaches—the youngest generation who is fed up with decades of oppression that has been inflicted on black people. This particular song by Simone revolutionizes the lived experiences of black womanhood, highlighting the ugliness of oppression while simultaneously revealing the collective beauty and unwavering strength to be black and a woman in America.

Nina Simone’s music served as a pivotal platform during the wake of America’s overwhelming ugliness in various forms of oppression. Simone courageously addressed and challenged the perception of blackness during the height of civil unrest with her soulful, gritty, reigning-true-to-form, revolutionary songs. Queen Nina Simone was a beautiful, black woman who uplifted us with her unparalleled voices—in music and in the struggle. She gave us an immortal gift, her music. In 2015, my 25th year, I am reminded that I am young, gifted, and black. I am reminded that I am feelin’ good and when I am not, here comes the sun and it’s alright. I am reminded that I am a queen. I am reminded that my blackness is significant; my voice is significant to my community and to the world. Plainly stated, Queen Nina Simone was dope. She empowered us. She gave us life, soul, and revolutions in every song.

Continue to rest in beauty, peace, and power, Queen Nina.

Photo: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive - Getty Images

Jasmyne K. Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama. She graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in English and thoroughly enjoys writing pieces that reflect African American history, culture, and progression. She is a contributor for up-and-coming magazine, Nu Tribe Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @poetic_jaszy and Facebook.

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