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An Interview With Simone: A Musical Legacy

On September 12th, 1959, the genre defying singer-pianist-songwriter Nina Simone performed at Town Hall, a legendary concert which yielded the classic At Town Hall album. On April 21th, 2006, history will repeat its' self on the same stage. Simone, daughter of Nina Simone, will be doing a tribute concert, singing the same songs heard in 1959, backed by some of the same musicians, but putting her own dynamic stamp on the music.

Nina Simone began her recording career with 1958s' Little Girl Blue. The landmark album took jazz songs (a term Nina herself detested; she referred to what she played as "black classical music") and imbued them with her own style. A classically trained pianist, she made thrillingly unexpected arrangements of songs like "Mood Indigo", and "Little Girl Blue", the latter famously interpolated with the carol "Good King Wenceslas. She eventually became as well-known for her civil rights activism and passionate personality as she was for her groundbreaking music. She wrote songs like "Young, Gifted, and Black" and "Mississippi Goddam" that expressed her feelings about the plight of African-Americans in society, while her versions of "I Put A Spell On You", "The House of The Rising Sun", and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" were artistic and commercial successes. She passed away on April 21st, 2003 at her home in France.

Lisa Celeste Stroud, Nina Simones' daughter, performs under the name Simone. Simone was an Engineering Assistant in the United States Air Force. Following her tenure in the service, she began singing backgrounds for various European artists. She eventually toured the world with Spanish artist Raphael. She would go on to a national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar before landing an understudy role in the original Broadway cast of Rent, and played Mimi in the first national tour. A new career path began when she joined the acid jazz band Liquid Soul, but she retuned to the Broadway stage in the title role of Disneys' Aida.

Simone was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail for BroadwayWorld.Com.


BWW: Many performers with famous parents are uncomfortable with their parents' legacies, but you have clearly embraced yours. Has this always been this case, or was it a process? Were you reluctant to become a singer?

Simone: Embracing my Legacy was a process, trust me. I quit wrestling with it a few years before Mommy passed, so the decision to carry it on was an easy one. No, I was not reluctant to become a singer. Singing has been an activity I've done my whole life, without thought. When I actually thought about doing it for a living, it was more like a revelation. 

BWW: Are there any songs you would have liked to hear her sing?

Simone: No.

BWW: Is this concert at Town hall intended to be a re-creation, or more of a tribute?

Simone: A tribute. April 21st is the 3rd anniversary of Mom's ascension as well as my official return to the stage after fighting what has been a lengthy probate process. 

BWW: What inspired you to do this concert?

Simone: A phone call from Town Hall. 

BWW: What songs in the concert are you most excited about performing?

Simone: Black is the Color

BWW: Are there any that are difficult for you emotionally?

Simone: Not specifically. Every day has its emotional difficulties. I miss my mother whether I'm singing her music or not.

BWW: Your mother was, and remains, a powerful and opinionated figure. Is there anything surprising about her that you'd like the public to know?

Simone: Yes. She died not knowing how much she was loved by fans around the world.

BWW: Apart from your mother, who has influenced your singing?

Simone: Aretha Franklin, Sergio Mendez, Rufus, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Bette Midler, The Doobie Brothers, The Commodores, Cat Stevens, Quincy Jones and the list goes on...

BWW: What current performers excite you?

Simone: John Legend, Missy Elliott, Siedeh Garrett, and Prince. 

BWW: Have you inherited any of Ninas' activist leanings?

Simone: Yes, I have.  

BWW: Do play any instruments? Do you write songs?

Simone: I play piano, by ear. Yes, I write songs... and good ones, too!!

BWW: You've had a varied career, backing international vocalists, performing in shows like Rent and Aida on tour and on Broadway, singing with an acid-jazz band, and now concert performance. Are there new things you want to try? Things you would like to revisit?

Simone: I look forward to doing my own show, not someone else's. That's always been my dream.

BWW: Thank you for taking the time to talk to BroadwayWorld.Com. I look forward to seeing you April 21st at Town Hall, and to your future projects.

Simone: You're welcome. See you at Town Hall.

Photos: Top and Bottom: Simone

Middle: Nina Simone and daughter.

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MARGARET CROSS was born in Ohio, raised in Florida, and currently resides in New York City, where she is a singer and actress. She is (read more...)