What Happened, Miss Simone?

Synopsis: On stage Nina Simone was known for her utterly free, uninhibited musical expression, which enthralled audiences and attracted life-long fans. But amid the violent, haunting, and senseless day-to-day of the civil rights era in 1960s America, Simone struggled to reconcile her artistic identity and ambition with her devotion to a movement. Culled from hours of autobiographical tapes, this new film unveils the unmitigated ego of a brilliant artist and the absurdities of her time. At the height of her fame Simone walked away from her family, country, career and fans, to move to Liberia and give up performing. The story of her life leading up to that event poses the question, 'how does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?'
Director(s): Liz Garbus
Production: Netflix
  Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 18 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
101 min


Tremendous pleasure

and honor to welcome

the incredible, unique, and fantastic,

one and only Nina Simone.


Hi! We're ready.

One, two, three.

I haven't seen you for many years,

since 1968.

I have decided that I will

do no more jazz festivals.

That decision has not changed.

I will sing for you,

or we will do and share with you

a few moments,

after which I shall graduate

to a higher class, I hope,

and I hope you will come with me.

We will start from the beginning,

which was about a little girl,

and her name was Blue.

What's "free" to you, Nina?

- What's "free" to me?

- Yeah.

Same thing it is to you.

You tell me.

No, no, you tell me.

I don't know.

It's just a feeling.

It's just a feeling.

It's like, "How do you tell somebody

how it feels to be in love?"

How are you going to tell anybody

who has not been in love

how it feels to be in love?

You cannot do it to save your life.

You can describe things

but you can't tell them,

but you know it when it happens.

That's what I mean by "free."

I've had a couple of times onstage

when I really felt free,

and that's something else.

That's really something else!

Like, all... all...

Like... like...

I'll tell you what freedom

is to me, no fear.

I mean, really, no fear.

If I could have that

half of my life, no fear.

My mother was one

of the greatest entertainers of all time,

hands down...

but she paid a huge price.

People seem to think that

when she went out on stage,

that was when she became Nina Simone.

My mother was Nina Simone 24/7...

and that's where it became a problem.

When she was performing,

she was brilliant, she was loved.

She was also a revolutionary.

She found a purpose for the stage,

a place from which she could

use her voice to speak out for her people.

But when the show ended,

everybody else went home.

She was alone

and she was still fighting...

but she was fighting

her own demons...

full of anger and rage.

She couldn't live with herself...

and everything fell apart.

Good evening.

Our guest tonight is Nina Simone.

Probably the foremost blues singer,

jazz singer, singer of all songs

in the United States today.

Nina, are you happy with

the kind of work you are doing?

What makes me the happiest,

is when I'm performing

and there are people out there

who feel with me

and I know I touched them.

But to be completely honest,

the whole thing

seems so much like a dream.

I never thought I was gonna

stay in show business.

When I first got into show business,

I wasn't a blues singer

and I wasn't even a jazz singer.

I was a classical pianist.

I studied to become

the first black classical pianist

in America,

and that's all that was on my mind.

That's what I was prepared to be.

I was born Eunice Waymon,

which is my real name, by the way,

in a town called

Tryon, North Carolina.

I started to play the piano

when I was three or four.

My mother was a preacher

and she took me with her

on her revivals,

and I started to play the piano in church.

Revival meetings were

some of the most exciting times

that I've ever had.

The music was so intense,

you just sort of went out of yourself.

I felt it tremendously.

I was leading it.

When I was seven, the choir of our church

gave a program at the local theater,

and I was on that program...

And I played some song,

I don't remember what it was,

and these two women, two white women,

in the audience heard me.

One of them was the woman

that my mother worked for,

and the other one was a music teacher,

Mrs. Mazzanovich,

and they decided right then and there

to give me lessons.

And so, for five years after that,

I studied piano, classical piano,

with this teacher.

I crossed the railroad tracks

every weekend to get to Mrs. Mazzanovich.

And, you know,

railroad tracks in the South

are supposed to be dividing

the blacks from the whites.

Well, it really did.

I was so scared.

Mrs. Mazzanovich frightened me.

It was her being white,

in the sense that I had never seen.

She was alien to me.

Her white hair, the combs in it,

her pleasantness...

I loved that.

And she started me on Bach.

And this Bach, I liked him.

Mrs. Mazzanovich had it in her mind

that I was gonna be one of

the world's greatest concert pianists.

So it was all

very disciplined classical music.

Bach, Beethoven, Debussy,

Brahms, you name it.

Then Mrs. Mazzanovich got a fund together,

"Eunice Waymon Fund,"

and I gave lots of recitals,

and they would take up collection

to further my education

after I had left her.

Mommy took to all of the training

like a fish to water,

but it was a double-edged sword.

She had a very lonely life

because she was practicing

seven, eight hours a day.

When I first started to take lessons,

I became terribly aware

of how isolated I was

from the other children,

and how isolated I was

from the white community

and the negro community.

I felt it, all the time,

even when the kids used to play with me.

They always wanted me

just to play the piano for them to dance.

I wasn't asked too much

to do anything else.

That was very hard.

Part of that isolation, of course,

was the thing about color.

I was a black girl, and I knew about it,

and I lived in it.

I lived in the South for 17 years.

My mom rarely referred

to Jim Crow and segregation

and a lot of the racial issues that

were going on at that stage in her life.

But she did tell me about times

when she was told her nose was too big,

her lips were too full

and her skin was too dark.

And after she was told that,

they probably told her,

"There's only certain things

you'll be good for in your life."

What I knew, I knew.

But we weren't allowed to mention

anything racial in our house.

I wasn't consciously dealing with race.

That wasn't consciously

on my mind at all...

until years later.

After I graduated from high school,

the money that had been saved

from the Eunice Waymon Fund

sent me to New York to Juilliard

for a year and a half.

And then I applied for a scholarship to

Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

I was playing Czerny and Liszt

and Rachmaninoff and Bach.

I knew I was good enough,

but they turned me down,

and it took me about six months

to realize it was because I was black.

I never really got over

that jolt of racism at the time.

Then the money ran out

and the reality hit me

that I had to go to work.

My parents had moved the whole family

to Philadelphia to be near me,

and my family is very poor,

so I had to work.

What else was there for me to do?

So, I got myself a job

in Atlantic City for a summer.

It was a very crummy bar

and I used to go in in evening gowns.

I didn't know any better.

And I played everything

that I could think of.

Pop songs, classical,

spirituals, all kinds of things.

It was very strange.

And I had never sung before,

and the owner came in the second night

and told me if I wanted to keep the job,

I had to sing.

So, $90 was more money

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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