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Friday, February 16, 2007

Nina Simone -Mississippi Goddam

You might know Simone's voice better from commercials featuring My Baby Cares for Me, or I Put a Spell on You, or from movie soundtracks where her 10-minute+ Sinner Man is a perennial favorite for action scenes. But Mississippi Goddam is the quintessence of Nina Simone, ranking with her Four Women for depth of black outrage and despair.

According to Simone's autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama - a bombing that killed four little girls, she suddenly realized "what it was to be black in America in 1963."

Simone's first reaction to the news was to start gathering materials for a zip gun in preparation to go out to the streets and begin killing whites herself, but, realized, "I knew nothing about killing [but] I knew about music. I sat down at my piano. An hour later I came out of my apartment with the sheet music for 'Mississippi Goddam' in my hand. It was my first civil rights song and it erupted out of me quicker than I could write it down. I knew then that I would dedicate myself to the struggle for black justice, freedom and equality under the law for as long as it took..."

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer
The song was first recorded live at Carnegie Hall in March of 1964 and Simone's career would change radically thereafter as she transitioned from lounge to protest singer.

There are too many excellent Nina Simone albums available for me to recommend just one, but, if you're unfamiliar with Simone and looking for a strong compilation that covers her evolution from supper club to protest singer, you couldn't go wrong with, Nina: The Essential Nina Simone, which includes most of her best-known work, from My Baby Just Cares For Me to Mississippi Goddam.

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