Nina Simone Song “Color Is a Beautiful Thing” Animated in a Gorgeous Video

Four years (or what seems like a life­time) ago, con­tro­ver­sy erupt­ed over the cast­ing of actress Zoe Sal­dana, with dark­ened skin, as icon­ic pianist and singer Nina Simone in the biopic Nina. Accu­sa­tions of racism and col­orism met the film, his­tor­i­cal atti­tudes hun­dreds of years in the mak­ing that Simone her­self fought through­out her career, espe­cial­ly after she joined the Civ­il Rights move­ment in the 1960s and active­ly made her per­son­al strug­gles with racism cen­tral to her polit­i­cal state­ments.

“You can­not under­stand Nina Simone’s life and lega­cy with­out tak­ing stock of her iden­ti­ty as a dark-skinned black woman,” says Vox’s Vic­to­ria Massie. “That fact was inex­tri­ca­bly linked to her life’s tra­jec­to­ry, her art and her politics—to every­thing that made Nina fear­less­ly and unapolo­get­i­cal­ly Nina.” Her daugh­ter Simone Kel­ly put it this way:

We all have a sto­ry. My moth­er suf­fered. We can go all the way back to when she was a child and peo­ple told her her nose was too big, her skin was too dark, her lips were too wide. It’s very impor­tant the world acknowl­edges my moth­er was a clas­si­cal musi­cian whose dreams were not real­ized because of racism.

Simone car­ried the wounds of those expe­ri­ences through­out her life, and she sought to heal them through music that affirmed the expe­ri­ence of oth­er young, dark-skinned girls who faced sim­i­lar obsta­cles.

The out­stand­ing nar­ra­tive “Four Women,” from 1966’s Wild is the Wind, artic­u­lates the dif­fer­ent treat­ment its char­ac­ters receive based on skin col­or. The Vil­lage Voice’s Thu­lani Davis called the song “an instant­ly acces­si­ble analy­sis of the damn­ing lega­cy of slav­ery.” The famous “To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black,” writ­ten for Simone’s friend and men­tor Lor­raine Hans­ber­ry, became an anthem of the Civ­il Rights move­ment in the 1970s.

Years lat­er, in “Col­or is a Beau­ti­ful Thing,” Simone revis­it­ed the theme in a short, repet­i­tive one-minute piece that is instant­ly sing-along-able. The song comes from her 1982 album Fod­der on My Wings, just re-released last month by Verve. “Col­or is a Beau­ti­ful Thing” is per­fect­ly tai­lored for young chil­dren, who will respond with joy not only to Simone’s rol­lick­ing piano but to the beau­ti­ful­ly ani­mat­ed video above.

Fod­der on My Wings is an over­looked album, Shel­don Pearce writes at Pitch­fork, “about per­son­al freedom—about lib­er­at­ing her­self from her past and find­ing the lib­er­ty to cre­ate as she pleased. It was Simone’s means of work­ing through fear—of death, manip­u­la­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion.” In the lin­er notes, she her­self writes, “What I did on this album was try to get myself deep into joy.”

The method above is mantra-like, the song’s refrain “like some­thing she’s try­ing to inter­nal­ize, a coda to 1969’s ‘To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black.” Simone nev­er seemed to over­come her own pain, but her gift—in addi­tion to her musi­cal brilliance—was to freely share the lessons she learned in the strug­gle, the bit­ter and the sweet, and to teach new gen­er­a­tions of artists.

via The Kids Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Nina Simone Became Hip Hop’s “Secret Weapon”: From Lau­ryn Hill to Jay Z and Kanye West

Watch a New Nina Simone Ani­ma­tion Based on an Inter­view Nev­er Aired in the U.S. Before

Watch Nina Simone Sing the Black Pride Anthem, “To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black,” on Sesame Street (1972)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.