This is my entry for “W” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “W” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Wattstax, Wild Africa, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and Word Wars.
Title: What Happened, Miss Simone?
Release Date: January 22, 2015
Director: Liz Garbus
Production Company: Moxie Firecracker Films
This documentary tells the life story of Nina Simone, a talented singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter across several genres and a Civil Rights activist. I first became aware of Simone in the early 2000s when I woke up to a local college radio station playing hear searing Civil Rights anthem “Mississippi Goddam” and have grown to appreciate her performance on several other songs she recorded. Although Simone died in 2003, this film features found audio recordings of extended interviews with her that allow Simone to narrate the movie. There is also archival footage of several of Simone’s concert performances which the director wisely allows to play out for entire songs.
Simone was born Eunice Waymon and was classically trained with hopes of becoming a concert pianist. She took her stage name when she took jobs playing “the devil’s music” at clubs in Atlantic City. She was also urged to sing along with her cocktail piano performances – or lose her job – which lead to her becoming a jazz and blues vocalist. Simone had a talent for modulating her voice to fit different songs which she states in the movie: “Sometimes I sound like gravel, sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.”
She married Andrew Stroud who also acted as her manager and furthered her career as a popular music artists. Simone was exhausted by the constant touring and performances, but her concerns were ignored by Stroud. Worse, Stroud severely abused Simone, both physically and psychologically. While Simone often had a strong and confident demeanor in public, images of her diaries show her struggles with depression and suicidal ideation. Her performances could be erratic too, and one stunning scene shows her stopping a song to yell at an audience member to “sit down!”
Unsettlingly, Stroud is one of the people interviewed in the film, and appears to be more interested in defending himself than telling Simone’s story. The other key figure is their daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who offers insight on her mother’s personal life as well as stories of growing up among celebrities like Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Sidney Poitier, and Betty Shabazz and her family. Some musicians Simone collaborated with also share details about Simone as an artist and their personal relationships.
This is a terrific documentary about a musician who I think should be more well-known.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:
I was completely unaware of Simone’s troubled personal life and mental health problems.
Also, there’s a scene where she performs a song called “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and I thought it was an interesting interpretation of a song by The Animals, but no! Nina Simone wrote this song and The Animals covered it!
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Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.