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Saturday, January 17, 2015


Greenwich Village, 1958

People ask me if I've seen her, and I say, why haven’t you?
Why haven’t you. Because once you see her, you never forget. She sings down here in the Village, jazz, folk, even show tunes. African songs, Hebrew, a kind of riff on Bach in s song called “Love Me or Leave Me.”  Gave me chills hearing her song “Brown Baby” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me.”
Once we caught her eye, Les and me, asked if she’d come out with us. Spent the night talking and laughing at a bar near the Gate

She told us how she’d come up playing piano at church for the choir and services. Wanted to be a classical pianist and when she gave a recital in the library she was just eleven years old. While she was playing somebody came up and pulled her parents out of the front row to make room for a white couple. That was the start of her education, she says, and I know what she means.
Right when it happened, she stood up and said if people wanted her to play they better let her parents sit down again in the front row. Some of the people in the audience laughed, but her parents got back to their seats and she sat down and started playing again. That was her—that’s Nina Simone.
Lot of singers here, they look white or almost white. Not Nina. She doesn't look like a regular movie star, and I think it’s a good thing, because she’s very, very beautiful, and she looks like herself, no one else. But you know, they didn'tlet her into the Curtis Institute, though she was easily as good as anyone else applying. Course I know all this, and when Les says, it’s unbelievable I just look at him and say, you may not believe it. But it’s true.
Nina had to sing at a cocktail bar for a while in New Jersey, and she didn't want her mother to find out; so that’s how she turned into Nina Simone. (She was born Eunice Waymon). But somehow, she knew if she could just cross the river and get to the Village she’d find someone to take her seriously, find her rightful audience.
I’m so pleased she did. I’m so pleased I’m here to listen to her. Because just the fact that she’s here means people are lining up to see her, and for one minute, or at least for the time she's on stage, that ugly issue of race is gone. They know a great singer when they see one. They know how lucky they are.

So do I.

Robert “Bo” Atkins