Who Is Nina Simone?
Legendary performer who sang a mix of jazz, blues and folk music in the 1950s and '60s. By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. She wrote "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African American girls.
It was a bloody Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963 that inspired the singer and pianist Nina Simone’s famous protest song, “Mississippi Goddam.” Four young Black girls died that day in a white supremacist terror attack that would become known as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. But the incongruously upbeat show tune wasn’t just crying out about this sole event. Simone was also lamenting the recent gunning down of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi. She was voicing anguish about all the acts of violence and oppression against Black communities in the segregated South. She was weaponizing music itself.
Simone’s protest anthem addresses the general sluggish pace of change and justice in America: “I don’t trust you anymore // You keep on saying ‘Go slow!’ // Go slow! // But that’s just the trouble.” She also addresses the fears surrounding a biased criminal justice system that could easily be transposed to racial injustices that are still being protested against today: “Hound dogs on my trail // School children sitting in jail // Black cat cross my path // I think every day’s gonna be my last.”
“In Mississippi Goddam, we have Nina Simone pulling from the past and invoking it in the present, but also speaking to what is yet to come if America does not enact real social change,” said musicology professor Tammy Kernodle.
“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. That to me is my duty, And at this crucial time in our lives when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.” -Nina Simone
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