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What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography

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Inspired by the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, an intimate and vivid look at the legendary life of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist.    From music journalist and former Spin and Vibe editor-in-chief Alan Light comes a biography of incandescent Inspired by the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, an intimate and vivid look at the legendary life of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist.    From music journalist and former Spin and Vibe editor-in-chief Alan Light comes a biography of incandescent soul singer and Black Power icon Nina Simone, one of the most influential, provocative, and least understood artists of our time. Drawn from a trove of rare archival footage, audio recordings and interviews (including Simone's remarkable private diaries), this nuanced examination of Nina Simone’s life highlights her musical inventiveness and unwavering quest for equality, while laying bare the personal demons that plagued her from the time of her Jim Crow childhood in North Carolina to her self-imposed exile in Liberia and Paris later in life.   Harnessing the singular voice of Miss Simone herself and incorporating candid reflections from those who knew her best, including her only daughter, Light brings us face to face with a legend, examining the very public persona and very private struggles of one of our greatest artists.


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Inspired by the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, an intimate and vivid look at the legendary life of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist.    From music journalist and former Spin and Vibe editor-in-chief Alan Light comes a biography of incandescent Inspired by the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, an intimate and vivid look at the legendary life of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist.    From music journalist and former Spin and Vibe editor-in-chief Alan Light comes a biography of incandescent soul singer and Black Power icon Nina Simone, one of the most influential, provocative, and least understood artists of our time. Drawn from a trove of rare archival footage, audio recordings and interviews (including Simone's remarkable private diaries), this nuanced examination of Nina Simone’s life highlights her musical inventiveness and unwavering quest for equality, while laying bare the personal demons that plagued her from the time of her Jim Crow childhood in North Carolina to her self-imposed exile in Liberia and Paris later in life.   Harnessing the singular voice of Miss Simone herself and incorporating candid reflections from those who knew her best, including her only daughter, Light brings us face to face with a legend, examining the very public persona and very private struggles of one of our greatest artists.

30 review for What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee

    5 "the way musical biography was meant to be" stars !!! 6th Favorite Read of 2017 (tie) Before we begin...I NEED you to listen to the genius of Nina Simone. I heard this in Sicily in an old hotel when I was 21 with a Russian girlfriend that I adored. She put this on one night and I was so shaken and moved by the misunderstood jazz singer that I could not do anything but be amazed, drink Marsala and hold my girl's hand while tears streamed down my face. Here is the song: https://www.youtube.com/w 5 "the way musical biography was meant to be" stars !!! 6th Favorite Read of 2017 (tie) Before we begin...I NEED you to listen to the genius of Nina Simone. I heard this in Sicily in an old hotel when I was 21 with a Russian girlfriend that I adored. She put this on one night and I was so shaken and moved by the misunderstood jazz singer that I could not do anything but be amazed, drink Marsala and hold my girl's hand while tears streamed down my face. Here is the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKYhk... Mr. Alan Light has achieved something remarkable here with his biography. He lets Nina, her family, friends, foes and critics do the talking to paint a remarkable moving portrait of this woman's life, struggles and genius. He writes with a compassionate and light touch about a musical genius that was misunderstood and who suffered from a major mental illness (likely a schizoaffective disorder in addtion to a severe narcissistic personality disorder) that made it incredibly difficult to get close to Ms. Simone, never mind like or love her. She was her own worst enemy and had so many internal conflicts that led to her being needy, angry, volatile and often abusive. She was not a good mother by any stretch and hurt almost everybody she knew by being emotionally and physically assaultive and cutting people off for the smallest slights. On the other hand she created music that defies description: jazz, classical, blues, broadway, folk and even some pop. Her piano improvisation was amazing and her voice was husky, warbly and warm. She hated being compared to Billie Holiday and wanted to be seen more in line with Maria Callas. She was a black consciousness activist in the 1960s and was good friends with James Baldwin, neighbours with the widow of Malcolm X and honored by Nelson Mandela. She cut her beloved father off for a lie he told one of her siblings, she was ignored by her mother and never really found lasting love. She was a conflicted bisexual and both hated and pandered her white and gay/lesbian devotees. She lived in the USA, Liberia, Switzerland and France. She was born in rags, had periods of luxury and died alone and destitute. Mr. Light you wrote one fuckin amazing biography and one of my life's laments is that I never got to hear the Late Miss Great Nina Simone perform live. Over the years, however, I have accumulated almost every recording that Nina made. Ms. Simone I will not forgive you for pouring whiskey at the face of my beloved Dusty Springfield but at least you didn't punch her in the face the way you did so many other celebrities, lovers and fans. I want to leave you with my favorite Nina Simone song. Prepare to be haunted and have some tissue nearby. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e02m9...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca McNutt

    What Happened, Miss Simone? is an incredible story of resilience, music and fighting for what you believe in. It's an amazing story and I loved it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I got this in the mail and thought wow I know this looks familiar... I then realized the Documentary!! Wow I was so happy to see this!! It's a goodreads giveaway and I am so happy to have gotten this!!! (I got this copy in pretty bad shape... cover bent completely over,pages crunched, back cover TORN OFF... but i am very happy for the opportunity to read this......)I'm going to pass it on to everyone I can... GREAT BOOK!!!! This is the story of Mrs. Nina Simone. A very Unique, Creative, Tortured, I got this in the mail and thought wow I know this looks familiar... I then realized the Documentary!! Wow I was so happy to see this!! It's a goodreads giveaway and I am so happy to have gotten this!!! (I got this copy in pretty bad shape... cover bent completely over,pages crunched, back cover TORN OFF... but i am very happy for the opportunity to read this......)I'm going to pass it on to everyone I can... GREAT BOOK!!!! This is the story of Mrs. Nina Simone. A very Unique, Creative, Tortured, soul.. This brilliant woman had a war within her, one side she was a classical pianist geniuses, activist, other hand she was a very hard to get along with, aggressive, cold woman. She formed relationships doomed to fail, competed with her daughter Lisa and didn't get the recognition she thought she deserved.. Until the end of her life she really had a hard life and was a cold, feared woman for it.. But I enjoyed the book Was a really interesting book about a very overlooked woman in history!! Famous activist Queen of Soul Classical genius original trendsetter!!!! And the Netflix documentary was good.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light's biography draws on Nina Simone's early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time. Episode One "I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius." Nina Simone Music journalist Alan Light From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light's biography draws on Nina Simone's early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time. Episode One "I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius." Nina Simone Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, and Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, among others. He was editor-in-chief of the music magazines Vibe and Spin, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. Writer: Alan Light Abridger: Pete Nichols Reader: Alibe Parsons Producer: Karen Rose A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08gwsjb

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    What Happened, Miss Simone? What a great title for a book that tells a heartbreaking story of a fantastic singer. Alan Light writes the biography of Nina Simone taking the reader from Miss Simone's hardscrabble childhood through her musical talent and genius to the end of her sad life. Such talent must have made it very difficult for her to adjust to the everyday workings of life. Maybe that is why she seemed unable to fit into her own skin nor to find the love which she needed so badly. I was a What Happened, Miss Simone? What a great title for a book that tells a heartbreaking story of a fantastic singer. Alan Light writes the biography of Nina Simone taking the reader from Miss Simone's hardscrabble childhood through her musical talent and genius to the end of her sad life. Such talent must have made it very difficult for her to adjust to the everyday workings of life. Maybe that is why she seemed unable to fit into her own skin nor to find the love which she needed so badly. I was a Nina Simone fan, of her blues and sultry voice. I was unaware of her civil rights activism and disappointed that she seemed to disregard the public which supported her. May she rest in peace. What Happened, Miss Simone? is a goodreads selection which I plan to share with a fellow goodreader. Thank you.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was a frustrating biography to read. The author, Alan Light had access to all of Miss Simone's diaries and correspondence and the cooperation of the family...but this led to him only interviewing a handful of people (presumably) okay-ed by the family. So it was the same five voices over and over and little from outside sources and indeed no third-party research. I read a lot of biographies so I guess I have higher standards than most and this was really lacking. I recommend instead the compa This was a frustrating biography to read. The author, Alan Light had access to all of Miss Simone's diaries and correspondence and the cooperation of the family...but this led to him only interviewing a handful of people (presumably) okay-ed by the family. So it was the same five voices over and over and little from outside sources and indeed no third-party research. I read a lot of biographies so I guess I have higher standards than most and this was really lacking. I recommend instead the companion Oscar-nominated documentary which had more perspectives, excerpts of interviews with Nina Simone, and lots of live performance clips.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This was really interesting and it didn't sugarcoat anything. The writing itself was a little on the dry side but I'm looking forward to watching the documentary.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Beatriz Fernandes

    I recommend reading this before you watch the documentary with the same title. Despite being written after and because of that film - the director asked the author if he was interested in writing it - it has, naturally more information, which makes easier to understand the movie (that has one or two moments when the facts are not chronologicaly); also, the documentary will play as a resume of what you just read. I do recommend both because they give you insights almost exclusive of each format: I recommend reading this before you watch the documentary with the same title. Despite being written after and because of that film - the director asked the author if he was interested in writing it - it has, naturally more information, which makes easier to understand the movie (that has one or two moments when the facts are not chronologicaly); also, the documentary will play as a resume of what you just read. I do recommend both because they give you insights almost exclusive of each format: the book has more information and better, well elaborated, explanations about Nina's behaviors and feelings; the film can actually show you how she played and performed, how she talked and who were all these people mentioned in the book, all these important "secondary" actors. A good biography, I suppose, ultimately will help you understand human nature, more than anything else. And will give you almost literally the thoughts and emotions of other people - whether you share a culture or other things with them, or not. This gives us a different perspective, the world through someone else's eyes - not somebody who is fictional, but a real person. It's a great tool to be more understanding and accepting of others, which is a very human thing to do - otherwise how could we live in a society? Not just this is important, this empathy, to build a healthy social structure, but also it is essential to keep it's components - people - happy, or at least satisfied. Nina was somewhat a misfit, not just because she was black and a woman, but because of all that she was - a black female artist who protested against social injustice; a pianist trained to play classical music, who crossed several musical genders in her songs, and expected the deserved recognition for her excelence; an artist who refused to just entertain; a free spirit, maybe, specially in the closed society where she grew up, who just wanted to love and be loved. I identify with a lot of that, in a way, and I hope others can do to, for their sake - to not feel alone, mostly - and for hers - she was really a bigger than life performer and musician, who should not be forgotten. Despite, in the end, we have an explanation for her erratic, sometimes violent and rude behavior, I still think there's space for criticism - she's still responsible for some of her actions, considering that she new, at times, that something was wrong and that she needed to change or a brake; she could have gotten help sooner, I suppose. The author does not give a subjective opinion, allowing the reader to develop his/her own. I do hope you read it, or see the documentary; but mostly I hope you will listen to her music. Because it's not outdated, not in form nor in content - that, I may say, is unfortunate, that there's still injustice. Today there's all kind of genres with solid admirers, even if not much, so her music, I'm sure, can find it's niche (s) of fans. Considering how some of them reflected her times - she said "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times" - the experience of nowing her work is also a History lesson, and allows you to compare between then and now. I agree with her statement: music is a cultural "invention", a language to bond people, inspire people - which Nina wanted to do - to give them courage to act for change, but also preserve the past and teach the future - to prevent oblivion and perpetuate a knowledge that can be useful. “The artist is the creator of beautiful things", as Oscar Wilde said, but should also "reflect the times".

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08gwsjb Description: Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light's biography draws on Nina Simone's early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time. Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08gwsjb Description: Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light's biography draws on Nina Simone's early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time. Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, and Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, among others. He was editor-in-chief of the music magazines Vibe and Spin, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. Episode One: "I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius." Nina Simone

  10. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm Marshall

    I can't remember exactly when I first heard a Nina Simone record, but it was some time in the early 1980s. It could have been in a nightclub or played on friend's record player. Being pre-internet we had no idea who she was or anything about her life. It was only when a someone told me that I realised that she was playing the piano as well as singing - the extent of her genius really hit home. There's a line in 'One Day' that says something like ' in a student flat in Edinburgh in the 1980's you I can't remember exactly when I first heard a Nina Simone record, but it was some time in the early 1980s. It could have been in a nightclub or played on friend's record player. Being pre-internet we had no idea who she was or anything about her life. It was only when a someone told me that I realised that she was playing the piano as well as singing - the extent of her genius really hit home. There's a line in 'One Day' that says something like ' in a student flat in Edinburgh in the 1980's you were never more than ten feet away from a Nina Simone album' and by the mid eighties that was true. I was lucky enough to see her in London in the late eighties at the Dominion Theatre. I found my self next to an American tourist, who had been a fan in the sixties, the last time he'd seen her was at a protest. He'd been making a call from a phone box on Tottenham Court Road when he looked up and saw Nina Simone's name splashed across the Theatre - he hadn't known what happened to her, even assumed that she'd died and the joy of his rediscovery was infectious. The power of perfume commercials ? The resurgence of racism and xenophobia we've seen seems to give a new relevance to this engaging biography - the injustices that fired Nina Simone seem to be echoed across the World today. Light has an easy style that tells an astonishing and tortured story of struggle and artistic brilliance. Having enjoyed Simone's music for many years I wish that this book and the documentary had come along a long time ago. Recommended for long time fans and anyone who is discovering her for the first time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    I've been a Nina fan for about half my life, the highlight of that capped early when I saw her in concert in 1998. I knew very little about her reputation, her history and her life. When she died I learnt a bit more through the obits. This book told me stuff I really had no idea about, particularly her struggles with mental health problems that made her at turns violent, paranoid, mean and needy. It can't have been easy to be around her. Nina Simone was a fierce genius and I would have liked more I've been a Nina fan for about half my life, the highlight of that capped early when I saw her in concert in 1998. I knew very little about her reputation, her history and her life. When she died I learnt a bit more through the obits. This book told me stuff I really had no idea about, particularly her struggles with mental health problems that made her at turns violent, paranoid, mean and needy. It can't have been easy to be around her. Nina Simone was a fierce genius and I would have liked more insight into her creative process and musicianship. Personally, I've long been interested in her friendship with another important artist, the writer James Baldwin. They were both active in the civil rights movement and used their art to communicate the aims and anger of the fight. It doesn't get much of a look in here. But it's the first biography I've read about her, and my respect for her remains intact.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

    (2) Nina Simone is an important part of music history. She was renowned for her unruly personality as much as her amazing talent. This book does and does not explain a lot of that. Her family background and life history makes for a reasonable story, but some of it does feel very strange to today's reader. The abuse she endured, from the outside and self inflicted , is overwhelming, and her actions at time were unjustifiable. Her involvement in the civil rights and other social movements were wel (2) Nina Simone is an important part of music history. She was renowned for her unruly personality as much as her amazing talent. This book does and does not explain a lot of that. Her family background and life history makes for a reasonable story, but some of it does feel very strange to today's reader. The abuse she endured, from the outside and self inflicted , is overwhelming, and her actions at time were unjustifiable. Her involvement in the civil rights and other social movements were well known, and were also a very important part of the figure she became. That all being said, she was a musical genius and reading this book has sent me to the library to grab a whole bunch of her music and give it a listen one more time with a new ear. A true Diva.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Howells

    I'm not one for hero worship, but Nina Simone is definitely one of the few who I hold above everyone else. She's my favourite female singer by a country mile and she is responsible for my favourite ever song (the one I would take, above all others, to a desert island). Yet strangely her legacy has not been treated well: there are a plethora of greatest hits knocking around but it's not easy to get hold of the albums she released in her lifetime. This is the accompanying book to the Netflix docum I'm not one for hero worship, but Nina Simone is definitely one of the few who I hold above everyone else. She's my favourite female singer by a country mile and she is responsible for my favourite ever song (the one I would take, above all others, to a desert island). Yet strangely her legacy has not been treated well: there are a plethora of greatest hits knocking around but it's not easy to get hold of the albums she released in her lifetime. This is the accompanying book to the Netflix documentary (also titled What Happened Miss Simone?) and is based on letters diaries and available interviews. Whatever you think of her music, Nina Simone, the person, was a difficult person to love. It's clear from the book that she was deeply troubled - and that she had undiagnosed (or at least not publicly acknowledged) mental health issues - possibly she was bi polar...there are also hints she may have had Schizophrenia. Her sexuality was fluid, and she had relationships with men & women. Her marriage was abusive, and when it finally broke down she searched in vain for a lasting relationship. In fact her most meaningful relationship was a musical one - with her longtime guitarist. I think it's clear that the issues she had caused her to be viewed by many as being a bit of a nightmare, and it's good that this book goes someway to explain the reputation she had. But let's not forget she was practically unique in 20th century music - a classically training black women who had a voice of such power & emotion who could turn her hand to soul, jazz, pop. She could create songs & she could interpret songs (her cover versions are often better than the originals). She could sing love songs & protest songs - she inspired the civil rights movement. It's a short book - I would love at some point to see a big doorstep of a biography that assesses in detail her music, but for now read this, watch the documentary, but please go out and listen to her music. You won't be disappointed.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I wish I had realized that Nina Simone had written her own memoir. I would've chosen to read it first. This biography is very thoroughly researched and includes many interviews from people who knew Simone and were close to her, and it did give me a pretty good overview of Simone's life. The author, Alan Light, though, is incapable of understanding the nuance of Simone's civil rights work or her sexuality. Light fails to comprehend (and therefore convey) the exhaustion and emotional toll that bei I wish I had realized that Nina Simone had written her own memoir. I would've chosen to read it first. This biography is very thoroughly researched and includes many interviews from people who knew Simone and were close to her, and it did give me a pretty good overview of Simone's life. The author, Alan Light, though, is incapable of understanding the nuance of Simone's civil rights work or her sexuality. Light fails to comprehend (and therefore convey) the exhaustion and emotional toll that being a Black woman and a Black performer during the civil rights movement clearly took on Simone. He fails to give the appropriate weight to the fear, confusion, and danger that Black people faced (and sadly continue to face today). I also thought the conclusions Light drew and the assumptions he made about Simone's motivations regarding her sexuality were offensive (in particular the narrow, heterocentric way he characterizes Simone's choice to have a threesome with another woman and her estranged husband). All in all, moments like these led me to question all Light's judgment and his conclusions in this book. I don't think he could really understand or empathize with a complex woman like Nina Simone.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    A quick read that gives the reader a fairly good idea of Nina Simone’s life. There are probably more detailed biographies out there, but for what it is, it’s a decent read - it never hovers on any particular part in depth. Packed with first hand accounts - interviews, letters - it serves as what I felt to be a well rounded account of not only Nina Simone, but those in her life. What honestly really struck me the most about the book was how it talked about mental illness - from the perspective of A quick read that gives the reader a fairly good idea of Nina Simone’s life. There are probably more detailed biographies out there, but for what it is, it’s a decent read - it never hovers on any particular part in depth. Packed with first hand accounts - interviews, letters - it serves as what I felt to be a well rounded account of not only Nina Simone, but those in her life. What honestly really struck me the most about the book was how it talked about mental illness - from the perspective of one struggling with it, and then from those who are left struggling to figure out how to deal with it. Those passages were the most poignant for me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jani

    That Nina Simone was a powerful artist is surety to anyone who has listened to her music with any concentrations. Alan Light biography tells an unflinching story of the artist behind the music. Nina Simone was a special talent, but also an especially difficult person to those whose lives he touched. Based on interviews, diaries and journals Alan Light's biography tracks her life from childhood to stardom to later troubled life. It does not steer away from how troubled and problematic person Simon That Nina Simone was a powerful artist is surety to anyone who has listened to her music with any concentrations. Alan Light biography tells an unflinching story of the artist behind the music. Nina Simone was a special talent, but also an especially difficult person to those whose lives he touched. Based on interviews, diaries and journals Alan Light's biography tracks her life from childhood to stardom to later troubled life. It does not steer away from how troubled and problematic person Simone was, but equally writes about her brilliance without suffering from needless hyberboles.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Medeiros

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very nicely researched biography to accompany the documentary of the same title. Light uses a wide variety of sources, including interviews with Simone's family and musical collaborators, and the artist's diaries, to depict the many sides of her life. While the last decades of her life were often quite dark, the book is a quick enough read that one doesn't feel too mired in the mental health challenges of her later life

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maureen M

    Nina Simone’s life was fascinating, but unfortunately this biography isn’t. Alan Light translates a Netflix documentary into book form. While the additional details, especially the notes in her own hand, enrich the story, her strange and painful life comes off as dull in this telling.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tristan Eagling

    Great book providing a slightly more grounded view of Nina's life than her autobiography. Although does not go into as much detail about the civil rights movements and her views as I would have liked.

  20. 4 out of 5

    MH

    Stunning.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Greb Grebreblis

    I hate the title because to me it implies that Nina Simone's evolution was caused by other factors and not by the maturing of one of the 20th century great artists. Mississippi, goddamn!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hazel

    A great read. Brought to light a number of things I hadn't realised about Nina Simone. Couldn't put it down.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I love this book This book is fantastic

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ralph

    Probably as close as anyone will get to writing a definitive biography of Nina Simone and certainly more reliable than her autobiography.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Phil Brett

    Superb biography. One of the best I’ve read, and one which inspired me to again listen to Simone’s wonderful albums. The documentary is also well worth getting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Wow! Time well spent. Glad to have met Miss Simone.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A fascinating (and clearly well researched) insight into the life and times of the volatile, yet always compelling, Nina Simone.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carla Cherry

    Fascinating portrait of a gifted artist.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Kozicki

    How sad a like for someone so talented

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    "I was born a child prodigy, darling. I was born a genius." Humility was something that Nina Simone never worried about. From the time she began playing for her mother's church services, she had an instinctive grasp of what it took to sway a crowd. She started with the piano at home, but the community soon became involved and that led to more opportunities as she found instructors and supporters. After being passed over for a scholarship to study at Curtis as a classical pianist, she found her w "I was born a child prodigy, darling. I was born a genius." Humility was something that Nina Simone never worried about. From the time she began playing for her mother's church services, she had an instinctive grasp of what it took to sway a crowd. She started with the piano at home, but the community soon became involved and that led to more opportunities as she found instructors and supporters. After being passed over for a scholarship to study at Curtis as a classical pianist, she found her way into giving private lessons and then to playing in clubs. Year by year her fan base grew and she moved to bigger venues, record contracts, and tours. Sadly, she was never really happy. Despite her renown and recognition, she had poor taste in men and a volatile temperament that only grew worse as she aged. When she died at age 70, she had still never truly connected with her mother or her own daughter. The author has put together the story of a remarkable woman. By using song lyrics, journals, letters, and interviews (with Simone and with family and friends), Light has pieced together a detailed account of Simone's rise to stardom and her complicated life. She could perform any kind of music, and the accounts tell of her mastery in musical genres as diverse as classical piano, jazz, blues, gospel, show tunes, and protest music. The activity behind the scenes is nearly as mesmerizing as her music. Readers learn of her tempestuous relationship with her second husband, Andrew Stroud (whom she married even after he had beaten her severely), along with her later relationships with political leaders in other countries. There are details about her struggle with mental issues - psychiatrists, hospital stays, drug & alcohol use, possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, etc. And there are the heart-wrenching observations of her inability to be happy, some written out in her journals and others from those who knew her. At times readers can only shake their heads in amazement at all her accomplishments, while at others they may grow teary-eyed at her self-destructive actions. Her involvement in the civil rights movement is reflected in her friend Andrew Young's statement, "There were two things that people in the movement would fight over. One was if you took their books. The other was if you took their Nina Simone albums." Songs like "Mississippi Goddam," "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," or "Four Women" put the truth out there for everyone around the world to hear. Her friendships with notables like Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, and the family of Malcolm X are also included in this biography. Whether you are a fan of Simone's from her start back in the 1950s, learned about her from protest music in the '60s, or perhaps found her through the inclusion of her songs in commercials or movies such as the 1992 "Point of No Return," you will come away from this book with a much clearer understanding of the woman behind the music. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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