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Nina Simone was way ahead of her time. “What Happened, Miss Simone?” the new Netflix documentary – that went up on the site this weekend – clearly depicts this fact. Oscar nominated, Liz Garbus and producer/music industry vet, Jayson Jackson have come up with a tale of art, power, pain, and sacrifice that has lit up the independent film festival circuit and is a must see.

Simone was a bi-polar, bi-sexual, genre defying artist/activist, whose career arc began as a child prodigy, in the Black church. While growing up in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, Jim Crow was master of all he purveyed. But in spite of this, Nina’s obvious talent attracted the attention of white patronage and tutelage. Eventually, aspirations were stoked within the young artist’s soul for a career in classical music. The dream of glory on the stages of the great European concerts halls, playing the compositions of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms was dashed, when racist thinking prevented her acceptance into a prestigious Philadelphia based music school.

Young Nina found hope and opportunity nonetheless, and began to pursue a career as an Atlantic City nightclub singer. Notoriety that she received from this period led to a recording contract and the release of her smash rendition of Gershwin’s standard “I Loves You Porgy” and a stunning debut at the Newport Jazz Festival. What then appeared to be a promising career as a jazz influenced standards singer was redirected by the bombing death of four little girls in a Birmingham, Alabama church, the assassination of Mississippi activist, Medgar Evers and Nina’s eventual participation in a civil rights movement in full swing.

With all of her standing in the international creative community, she chose to fight for the rights of her people. Nina’s commitment to change, to justice and to better may have caused her to lose millions. The radicalized Simone performed for marchers on the eve of the Selma protests, hung out with James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes and became the next door neighbor of Malcolm X. Simone’s defiant expression of Afrocentric creativity not only planted seeds for the eventual emergence of hip hop, but found supporters and followers in a nascent feminist movement that has flowered into a serious presidential candidacy for Hillary Clinton.

Last February, when John Legend received his Best Original Song Oscar for “Glory,” his collaboration with Common, from the soundtrack of “Selma,” he both quoted and thanked Nina Simone when he said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” Through his music and his work with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Legend has proven to be a creative and political son of Nina Simone’s that she might have been proud of. Along with Talib Kweli, J. Cole, Jigga and Q-Tip, Legend has risked commercial acceptance by raising his voice for justice.

The recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and Charleston remind us that the struggle that Simone was engaged in is not over, and that lessons from the past must inform our fight for a better present and a more hopeful tomorrow. Revolutionary activist, Angela Davis has contributed liner notes to a forthcoming compilation album, “Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone” that has been inspired by the film, and that will feature five new vocal performances from Ms. Lauryn Hill. Davis wrote this of Simone, “I first heard Nina Simone’s music as a high school student in the late 1950’s in New York. Although her name did not yet by itself evoke black freedom, as when she later sang “All I want is equality/ For my sister, my brother, and me,” I do not think that I was alone in feeling that something in her phenomenal voice beckoned us toward the battle to come. It was from Nina Simone that we learned, for example, how not to interpret the tactical importance of nonviolence as mitigation of our collective anger against racism. Thus “Mississippi Goddamn” became as important an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement as “We Shall Overcome.”

On this last weekend of Black Music Month, and while we fight to reform an unjust system that must be reminded that Black Lives Matter, it might be instructive to watch “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and remember how much further we must travel before we overcome and how hard Nina Simone fought to get us here.

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Jayson Jackson, Producer of the Netflix Documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? And The Great Bill Withers

Last Sunday night, Janet Jackson released a sexy slice of hot weather seduction called “No Sleeep”. The record is rocketing up the iTunes global pop chart and looks like it may be the first look at what could be an historic comeback.

At 3:26 the joint is all whispered hypnotic seduction where she threatens to keep her lover up all night while she handles her business. Classic Black Pop production team, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have reteamed with Janet after a long layoff, and have delivered a down tempo smash that recalls the vocal style of the late hip-hop princess, Aaliyah.  

The firm of Jackson, Jam and Lewis were collectively responsible for co-creating the lion’s share of 21 number one pop singles in a run that lasted from late 1985 until 2001 that included “What Have You Done For Me Lately”; “Nasty”; “Rhythm Nation”; “Funny How Time Flies”; “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”. This is required listening. Her album is expected to drop this fall. I can’t wait.

insideplaya 

 

Dylann Storm Roof was a racist with a gun. He had a Facebook page with a picture that showed him wearing symbolic patches that celebrated Apartheid and slavery. His license plate was an image of the confederate flag. A flag soaked in blood, drenched in misery and raised by graft and corruption. Apparently, he was not someone on whom the value of symbolism was lost.

He was a resident of a state that continues to fly that flag, despite the fact that it is a symbol of white supremacy, sedition and treason, near the grounds of the state Capitol building. A battle was fought over the legitimacy of that flag’s continued waving over the Capitol building, and South Carolina lost $7 billion in revenue through a boycott that was inspired by blacks who refused to visit or spend in South Carolina.

Last night, Roof walked into a house of worship, asked where the minister was seated, and in an act of hypocrisy that was true to that flag, he found a seat near the reverend, spent an hour in feigned fellowship, and then, he pulled out a weapon and proceeded to slaughter the parishioners and the pastor.

The scene of the crime was a church, but it too was also a symbol. A symbol of resistance with a rich and long history of anti white supremacist activity. It was a church that was founded by Denmark Vesey, the renowned freedom fighter and leader of a failed slave revolt.

In 1822, Vesey had attempted to raise the consciousness of both free and enslaved blacks who were residents of Charleston, South Carolina, one of the key centers of the US slave trade. Vesey was an educated man who hungered for freedom and he was willing to either kill or die for it. One of the slave collaborators, who was privy to the plot, divulged the plan to his master. The plot was foiled, and Vesey was tortured and hanged. Last night was the anniversary of the discovery of Vesey’s plot.

There will be those who say that Dylann Storm Roof was an insane lone gunman, and that he may be, but he was organized. If you believe that racism is a sickness then you would be right. But racism is more; it is a system of oppression with financial gain as it’s root cause and Dylan Roof was the local representative.

In his cowardly bid for infamous immortality, Dylann Roof revealed something that many will find difficult to accept; he is a soldier at war. While he cold-bloodedly murdered six women and three men, he yelled, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over the country. You must go.”

When cotton and it’s picking emerged as the economic engine that made the US a player on the world’s stage, and the slave labor that picked that cotton was not to be compensated, justifications had to be made for the inherent inhumanity of the whole enterprise. This is the fundamental and underlying reason for racist philosophy. We continue to struggle with this basic truth to this day.

Though Roof may be deluded (I doubt that any of those six female victims posed a potential sexual threat to any white woman) he was clear in his purpose: black life poses a threat to his worldview and order as he understands it. His state legislature flies a flag that he believes is his own, and that symbolizes the continued oppression of blacks, and celebrates the institution of slavery while waving in defiance of the defeat of the seditious traitors and slave masters who referred to themselves as the confederacy. Representatives of law enforcement, in Roof’s region have continuously taken the lives of unarmed blacks without impunity. In North Charleston, a cop shot a fleeing black man in the back and murdered him because he thought that he would get away with it. Young Trayvon Martin’s life was ended by a sick vigilante, and he did get away with it. So why shouldn’t a proud young son of the confederacy not be inclined to murder nine unarmed worshipers at bible study? Everyone else is doing it, right?

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