During a time when our musical stars are known mainly for flashing their ya-yas and boobies and getting into drunken brawls with paparazzi, I think we should take a moment to reflect on what we have lost. A time when music heroines were beings of grace, elegance, and nobility: creatures that inspired us for how far they had climbed, rather than how low they could sink. There are many muses that have aspired to this ideal: Barbara Streisand, Loretta Lynn, Kate Bush, and more recently, Tori Amos: but of these, none culminated these ideals quite as much as Nina Simone.
Nina Simone, the stage name of Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was born on February 21, 1933, in North Carolina. Simone lived the true rags to riches star story: an avid church singer, Simone worked her way up to fame playing nightclubs in Atlantic City and Philadelphia. In 1958, she came out with her first album, “Little Girl Blue” which launched her into a musical sensation.
More than anything, Nina Simone is most closely associated with her unique vocal style: remarkably low tones, a stunning vibrato, and a timbre that is sometimes characterized as androgynous. But the most stunning part of Nina’s music is the sheer passion that lies in everything she sang. Her songs are often dramatic characterizations, Simone channeling the characters in the songs with an empathy and feeling that has never had an equal. Whether singing as tragic Bess or the wrathful Pirate Jane, the promiscuous Sea Line Woman, or the damned woman in the House of the Rising Sun, Simone is not simply singing, but becoming these personages with a force of will and strength that is marveling.
But Nina Simone was not simply a pretty voice. Throughout her career she was a champion of the Civil Rights movement, and later, the Black Power movement. Many of her songs were themed in the plight of the underprivileged black community, transforming the injustices into beautiful songs to be contemplated while enjoyed. Her song, “Mississippi Goddamn,” written in reaction to a bombing of a black church in Alabama, led to her music being boycotted in several southern states.
Like several musical heroines today, Simone had her own demons: yet she bore them with grace and nobility, rather than allowing them to consume her. Nina suffered from bipolar disorder, which was kept a secret until 2004 (after her death). This disorder is often considered the source of Simone’s ability to often fluctuate between exuberant happiness and tragic melancholy within an album or concert.
Nina Simone’s style was one etched in bearing and nobility. For much her career, she wore her hair in high pile atop her head, accentuating her graceful neck and queen-like profile. Her wardrobe was one of long, flowing garments made of rich fabrics, much of which as dramatic as her music. You can channel the loveliness of Nina with some of the following style ideas…
Funk it up with an elaborately patterned tunic and sweeping denim trousers. A leather jacket makes the entire appearance sleek and stunning. Complete the look with strong accessories, that pop but don’t dominate.
A seriously draping dress with a short hemline is the perfect thing to make you look ethereal, without drowning in fabric. Match strong colors with strong colors: black and a rich brown are the perfect company for a fiery orange. Top the whole look off with a fantastically eccentric floppy hat, stunning heels, and chunky bangles, and you will look like a living legend.