Nina Simone - "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black"
Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Born in North Carolina, the sixth child of a preacher, Waymon initially aspired to be a concert pianist. With the help of a few supporters in her hometown of Tryon, she enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
Waymon then applied for a scholarship to study at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she was denied admission despite a well-received audition. Waymon became fully convinced this rejection had been entirely due to racial discrimination. In 2003, just days before her death, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed on her an honorary degree.
To make a living, Eunice Waymon changed her name to "Nina Simone". The change related to her need to disguise herself from family members, having chosen to play "the devil's music" or "cocktail piano" at a nightclub in Atlantic City. She was told in the nightclub that she would have to sing to her own accompaniment, which effectively launched her career as a jazz vocalist.
Simone recorded more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974. She made her debut with the album Little Girl Blue. She had a hit in the United States in 1958 with "I Loves You, Porgy".
Simone's musical style fused gospel and pop with classical music, in particular Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.
She was a fierce advocate of the civil rights movement. While she sometimes disagreed with Dr. King, they understood each other and were proud of each other’s work. Simone performed and spoke at civil rights meetings, such as at the Selma to Montgomery marches. Like Malcolm X, her neighbor in Mount Vernon, New York, she supported black nationalism and advocated violent revolution rather than Martin Luther King's non-violent approach. She hoped that African Americans could use armed combat to form a separate state, though she wrote in her autobiography that she and her family regarded all races as equal.
In 1967, Simone moved from Philips to RCA Victor. She sang "Backlash Blues" written by her friend, Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes, on her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings the Blues (1967). On Silk & Soul (1967), she recorded Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" and "Turning Point". The album 'Nuff Said! (1968) contained live recordings from the Westbury Music Fair of April 7, 1968, three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. She dedicated the performance to him and sang "Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)", a song written by her bass player, Gene Taylor. In 1969, she performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in Harlem's Mount Morris Park.
Simone and Weldon Irvine turned the unfinished play To Be Young, Gifted and Black by Lorraine Hansberry into a civil rights song. She credited her friend Hansberry with cultivating her social and political consciousness. She performed the song live on the album Black Gold (1970). A studio recording was released as a single, and renditions of the song have been recorded by Aretha Franklin (on her 1972 album Young, Gifted and Black) and Donny Hathaway. When reflecting on this period, she wrote in her autobiography, "I felt more alive then than I feel now because I was needed, and I could sing something to help my people".
So today, with strength in my bones, I choose Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” as my, stand strong, I am an immovable force, yours are the gifts to grow, song for a, only light can push out dark, shine on, rise and rise and rise, Monday Martin Luther King Jr. Day.