Nina Simone

Among the most pervasive and enduring dichotomies in music criticism is the one separating the romantic sentimentalist from the dogmatic politician. Although the line generally holds true — imagine cuddling up next to Chuck D or discussing politics with Mariah Carey — there are exceptions. Nina Simone, more so than most, was able to deftly juggle public outrage with private yearning. A classically trained pianist who only later discovered the freedom of jazz, Simone became known as a powerful Afro-centric songwriter who never apologized for her unorthodox sense of the song form. Whether tackling the Civil Rights-era classic "Mississippi Goddamn!," easing up next to the romanticism of "My Baby Just Cares," or revitalizing standards such as "Ne Me Quite Pas" and "I Loves You, Porgy," Simone carried it off with the sort of deftness and ease that led her to be considered one of America's greatest singers. The word genius is one of the most overused in the critical lexicon, but it fits here.


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