Nina Simone: a Necessary Revolutionary Voice in the Arts during the Civil Rights Movement

What I’ve always loved about Nina Simone, more than her musical talent or revolutionary soul – is the passion in her voice.

She might not hit every note in the conventional sense we expect singers to, but in her voice, I feel power, anger, desperation, chaos, and a gist of eroticism.

She began playing piano at the age of 3 and aspired to become the first black female concert pianist, but her aspirations took a turn after being rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia for being black.

She became friends with civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and quickly became the soundtrack of a growing political movement for racial justice. “Mississipi Goddamn” was arguably her first political song in which she addresses the killing of black people.

She mixed art and politics at the height of a revolutionary movement, using her global platform to shed light on racial injustice in America. While she might not have been a civil rights figure in the way that Rosa Parks or MLK were, racial inequality was the basis for her work, and she used her strong, emotional voice to spread an important message to the world.

Simone’s social commentary was not limited to racial injustice in America.

In her autobiography, she explains that “I Put A Spell On You” (one of my favorite songs of hers), is meant to inspire black women to redefine and identify beauty without the influence of socially constructed beauty standards.

Nina Simone had a strong personality, anger issues, suffered from mental illness, and was a victim and survivor of domestic violence. Her passion and intensity were both a blessing and a curse.

But her flaming thirst for freedom was seductive, contagious, and represented a necessary revolutionary voice in the arts during the civil rights movement.

As Toni Cade Bambara said, “The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible”, and I think Nina fulfilled that role.

Quote design by graphic designer Lucie Vittoz, check out her website!

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