Nina Simone Sings of Social Injustice in a 1965 Dutch Television Broadcast

“I feel my origins deeply,” Nina Simone once said. “My art is anchored in the culture of my people, and I am immensely proud.” Proud and defiant. As this 1965 Dutch television performance illustrates, Simone carried the Civil Rights Movement with her wherever she went.

Nineteen Sixty-Five was the year of the voter rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Simone was there in Montgomery to sing for the marchers, and when she toured Europe later that year the events were still very much on her mind. European audiences were sympathetic but somewhat remote. In a letter written from Europe to her friend Langston Hughes, Simone expressed frustration in getting her message across. “Sometimes,” she wrote, “when I’m with white ‘liberals’ who want to know why we’re so bitter–I forget (I don’t forget–I just get tongue-tied) how complete has been the white race’s rejection of us all these years.”

One place where Simone performed in 1965 was at the Mickery Theater in Loenersloot, Holland, a village just outside Amsterdam. Dutch public television was there to film the show, which is now included in the Jazz Icons DVD Nina Simone Live in ’65 and ’68. In the 40-minute set, shown above, Simone is joined by Lisle Atkinson on bass, Rudy Stevenson on guitar and Bobby Hamilton on drums. The classically trained Simone plays piano and sings seven songs, each one dealing in some way with issues of racial, gender or economic injustice:

  1. Brown Baby
  2. Four Women
  3. The Ballad of Hollis Brown
  4. Tomorrow is My Turn
  5. Images
  6. Go Limp
  7. Mississippi Goddam

The Dutch program reveals Simone as an artist of deep feeling who challenged audiences to think. In an interview that year with a French journalist, she said, “Because of the lack of respect that endures even after hundreds of years, each time I go to a new country I feel obligated, proudly, to assert my race. And don’t fool yourself. No matter what I sing, whether it’s a ballad or a lament, it’s all the same thing–I want people to know who I am.”


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  1. Lorenzo Porricelli says . . . | October 29, 2012 / 10:25 am

    Nina Simone’s voice reflects the pain and tragedy of the American journey of civil rights, and her inflections and range of voice will tear a heart out. She spoke out, but she sang with a voice that moved people to action, with her cost being great popularity among whites, many of whom are only now discovering what they missed. A voice for the ages, from pain to joy, and her rendition of “Here Comes the Sun,” will share the range of intense pain that is shed as she soars to the skies with joy. I love you, Nina.

  2. Errol maynard says . . . | May 1, 2013 / 12:18 am

    Thanks

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