Keeping the Blues Alive / Blues News  / Nina Simone, High Priestess of Soul

While she was a classical pianist by training, Nina Simone launched her career as a vocalist in 1954 when, in need of extra money, she started playing cocktail piano at a night club in Atlantic City and was told she would have to sing her own accompaniment. Most notably, Ms. Simone became known for her mixing of the classical with the popular, pairing her jazz expression and gospel renditions with a touch of baroque in her playing, making her at times difficult to classify.

This video was recorded in 1968 for England’s Granada TV as part of a special called Sound of Soul during one of Simone’s visits to London, where the song reached #2 in the UK Singles Charts. In it, Simone delivers a performance of the kind her audiences had come to expect: crisp, soulful notes combined with a tinge of the indignation that she embodied as a civil rights activist.

Her virtuosity on the piano was undeniable, but it was often her voice, with its spellbinding melancholy that carried the tunes, and this recording was no different. While “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” was originally a medley of songs from the musical “Hair,” Simone’s interpretation quickly became a song of protest and an anthem of freedom among younger audiences.




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