Tribute to Nina Simone!
Eunice Kathleen Waymon
(February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003),
Known professionally as Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
To make a living, Simone started playing piano at a nightclub in Atlantic City. She changed her name to “Nina Simone” to disguise herself from family members, having chosen to play “the devil’s music”or so-called “cocktail piano”. 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. She went on to record more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974, making her debut with the Little Girl Blue. She had a hit single in the United States in 1958 with “I Loves You, Porgy”. Her musical style fused gospel and pop with classical music, in particular Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.
A lot of people told Sharon Udoh (aka Counterfeit Madison) she sounded like Nina Simone, but what that might mean never really registered. “I have a very religious background,” she explains. “I never listened to secular music until late in life, so I had no idea who Nina Simone was.” When she finally figured out who she was, Udoh was 29 years old, had been playing the piano for two decades, and consciously avoided songs written and popularized by Simone.
Nina Simone was a person of color who sang about the plight of people of color. So I decided, I’m mad enough,’ I was going to do a Nina Simone.”
Udoh’s first show was in Chicago, backed by a hot quintet. She’s coming to Memphis solo and sees the change as an opportunity to explore Simone’s frequently improvisational performance style.
“I had to pick where I was going to shine through and where she was going to shine through,” Udoh says of her work adapting Simone’s famously difficult material. “In doing that, I found myself even more.”