Nina Simone is trending right now. That's a good thing. The seduction of money and popularity does a strange thing to art. If you didn't know any better, if mainstream radio was your primary diet, you might consume the empty calories of today's pop music without even realizing you're malnourished. Thankfully Nina is 'back' with some sustenance. Back is in quotes because she never really left. Whether it's in the reactions to Saldana playing her, or in gospel artist Mali Music's music, or hip-hop via Kweli, Kanye, Lil Wayne, etc., she ain’t never gone nowhere. Nina's lasting influence a testament to her brilliance, always there to remind artists and audiences what integrity sounds like.
We have Netflix to thank for Nina's most recent resurgence in our conversations (i.e. timelines). Their new documentary ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ has been received enthusiastically, with a few thoughtful exceptions. On July 10th RCA also released a tribute album, Nina Revisited, with reimaginings of Simone’s music from an all-star lineup. A couple of well-executed tribute albums already exist. One was released last year overseas with offerings from some of my favorite artists, Lianne La Havas, Melody Gardot, Keziah Jones, and Gregory Porter (who’s on the most recent one too). Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s ode to Nina from 2012 still has lots of replay value. So there were high expectations on July 10th for Nina Revisited, especially after seeing a tracklist that included Lauryn Hill, Common, Lalah Hathaway, Jazmine Sullivan, Alice Smith, Mary J. Blige and Ursher.
I don’t love the album. It’s fine. It’s got some definite bright moments. I adore Lauryn Hill, but as I was listening to her 6 adequate renditions I couldn’t help but think of 5 other brilliant Black women artists who may have appreciated those spots. Nina is hard to cover, listening to someone else sing her usually compels me to dig up the original. However, there are some folk out there that could do her work justice. They’re not as popular because corporations have effectively diluted the potency of our public art. That’s why I’m sharing this list. I was moved by Nina’s story, while watching “What Happened, Miss Simone?’ it occurred to me that part of the answer to that question is that she sometimes lacked the support she needed. So my tribute to her is to help garner support for contemporary artists that are carrying forth her legacy.
This ain’t no diss to the artists on Nina Revisited. This is for whoever believes we can’t honor Nina enough. So for the follow up, volume 2 of this, here are some artists to consider. They all remind me of Nina in some way. Either their stage presence, distinct voice, authenticity, innovation, impact, political consciousness, courage, or their ability to use their gifts to do what art is supposed to, make us feel something:
I say alll this to say: the genius of Black women's artistry is limitless. Especailly when we support them. And I bet Nina is pleased to have contributed to that. I hope she graciously receives all of our continued offerings of gratitude and tribute.
*Please take some time to click all the links and learn more about these phenomenal artists.*