Culture Re-View: Nina Simone - a life in quotes

Nina Simone performs at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, 1985
Nina Simone performs at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, 1985 Copyright Rene Perez/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Rene Perez/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Jonny Walfisz
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Nina Simone died on this day 20 years ago. Here are some of the best quotes from one of music's legends.


21 April 2003: Nina Simone’s swan song

Today is the twentieth anniversary of Nina Simone’s death. The American singer, songwriter and activist remains peerless as an undeniable force to be reckoned with, both on and off stage.

Born on 21 February 1993 in North Carolina, she started her musical journey as a pianist. Even at her first public recital aged just 12, Simone was using her platform to call out injustice, demanding her parents were able to sit in front of white audience members.

Her first album, ‘Little Girl Blue’ was released in 1959 to immediate attention. A career in music flourished, with Simone adamantly retaining creative control throughout her future releases. First she signed with Colpix Records and then the Dutch Philips Records, where she continued to sing about her experiences as an African American. 

Her song ‘Mississippi Goddam’ addressed the 1963 bombing of a church in Alabama killing four black girls, as well as the murder of Medgar Evers.

Jazz singer Nina Simone is shown in London on Dec. 5, 1968, photo.AP/AP1968

Simone performed and spoke at marches alongside some of the biggest names in the civil rights movement, from Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma to her support of Malcolm X, who she lived next to in New York.

Although Simone would never regret her actions, she recognised that her public stance on race, often told through her music, hampered her career. After boycotts and a warrant for her arrest, she left the US in 1970 for good. Simone went on to live in Barbados, the UK, Liberia, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands before finally settling in southern France near Aix-en-Provence.

She died there in 2003, aged 70.

To celebrate her life, here are five of her most badass quotes:

  1. “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me. No fear!”
  2. “This is the world you have made yourself, now you have to live in it.”
  3. “Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.”
  4. “I was always a politician from the day the civil rights people chose me as their protest singer.”
  5. “Sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.”
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