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Nina Simone – Revolution

Her, What Happened, Miss Simone? documentary opens the 2015 Sundance Film Festival…

A documentary about jazz singer Nina Simone opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, with the director Liz Garbus saying Simone’s songs can still resonate for a new generation.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is a tribute to the singer, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in North Carolina, who died on April 21 2003 at the age of 70. {..}

“Her life was a reflection of the legacy of racism in America but also of the extraordinary power that a righteous voice can have against even the most wicked historical legacy. If we had voices like Nina Simone today, (they could express) the pain and the passion of the movement, that’s been building I think on the streets in the past six months.”

Drawing on previously unreleased footage and recordings, the film traces Simone’s life from her youth as a classically trained pianist to the blues and jazz artist of I Love You Porgy fame as well as her more political songs of the Sixties. The film features extensive interviews with her daughter and close friends and deals with her problems with domestic abuse, alcohol problems and mental illness, leading eventually to her diagnosis with bipolar disorder.

“She struggled with demons, from inside and out,” said Garbis, who was hugged afterwards by festival founder Robert Redford.

For a time in the Seventies Simone was living in France, without much money and struggling to get her career back on the rails. Oddly, it was an advert for Chanel No 5 perfume which resurrected her career because of its use of her song My Baby Just Cares for Me.

In a later-life interview featured in the film, a disillusioned Simone laments that there was no civil rights movement, and therefore no place for her earlier songs.

“I think that’s one of the saddest moments for me in the film, because I think we can all see the place of these songs today,” said Garbus, urging new artists to “appropriate those songs to take them, and to continue them and to … let the music mean something again.” {..}

(John) Legend added: “Nina Simone is one of my favourite artists of all time. I find myself studying her versions of all kinds of songs, thinking about her words, thinking about her boldness, thinking about her commitment to justice.”

What Happened, Miss Simone? is due out soon, on streaming service Netflix.

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