Nina Simone is a unique voice in the annuls of soul history. Trained as a classical pianist in segregated North Carolina, and retaining a desire to perform such material while upholding one of the most acclaimed vocal jazz careers of the sixties. Her war-like persona is almost as famous as her music; but her passion radiates through her deep, expressive voice and a catalogue of fantastic material – containing some of the most iconic ballads ever laid to wax. For a woman whose best work was recorded more than half a century ago, Simone’s talent still stands tall and touches deeply to this day. Here’s my guide on where to start.
Her 1958 debut album Little Girl Blue was unusually quick to tap the essence of Simone’s talent. It’s a jazzier record than some of her later big band efforts but is also in many places a more stripped back one, focussing on the strength of her voice and the delicacy of her classically trained piano. ‘Plain Gold Ring’ sees her performing a Doors-esque dirge 10 years before Jim Morrison would, and her first classic ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ sees Simone at her melodic best; piano chords falling like jackhammers.