Understanding Nina Simone

More

There was a request last week to highlight Nina Simone's music so that the laymen (or laywoman) might better understand how her physicality played into her story. I don't think there's a better artifact for getting this across than Simone's performance of "Four Women," which you see below.

I have always thought that in the hands of lesser musician—or in the hands of maybe even anyone else—"Four Women" would not be a very good song. The power isn't so much in the lyrics (although "My mouth like wine" is a great line) as it is in how Simone emotes it. Whatever the sparse descriptions of each women, Simone shines a light upon each of them, varying her emotion as needed.

That light comes from a particular woman, with a particular experience—one that isn't just a "black experience," but a very specific one. Nina Simone's very dark skin was not merely was not incidental to her career, nor was it merely grievance. Her beauty in this particular clip is important, for it isn't a species of beauty that had any place in America when Simone was born. Things are better now, but it's still only recognized intermittently.

More to come throughout the week.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In