Tuesday, May 13, 2014 N. R. 0 Comments

  "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” 

The famous story of when twelve year old Nina delayed her performance at a classical recital until her parents were moved back to the front of the audience (they had been sitting in front row seats and were moved to the back of the hall because of the colour of their skin) has been told time and time again, but I never tire of reading about it. Nina Simone was supremely confident, besides knowing that the treatment of her parents at her recital was wrong and unjust, she also knew that she was 'good' enough of a performer and pianist to have enough of a say to demand that her parents were treated as fairly as everyone else. She began playing piano at age three. From the age of six years old she was playing piano accompaniment for church revivals and church sermons. She took private piano lessons to further develop her skills and to help her get into the Curtis Institute after high school — she was rejected by this school, but she was accepted into Julliard School of Music. To fund her private lessons she performed at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, where she sang and played the piano. Her musical style which she called black classical music, is a blend of gospel, pop songs, and classical music balanced with her jazz-like singing.

You can see Nina's self-assurance when she plays the piano on stage, and when she takes a hold of the mic to sing. You can hear it in her songs (which are empowering, and abundantly filled with protest lyrics. Hence the above quote.) and you can read it in her autobiography aptly titled I Put a Spell on You, after her 1965 album and single of the same name. Although, when you are a classically trained pianist who cites Johann Sebastian Bach as your first inspiration, and you've studied at one of the most prestigious art schools, and have been playing the piano since aged three, and performing from the age of  six, plus you are a chart topping songwriter and you not only sing jazz, but pop and gospel I feel that you - she had the right to entertain with as much confidence as she did. This is an important lesson to learn from Nina, which I can best explain with a scenario that is relatable. When you walk into a room, it could be for an audition, an interview, a meeting, or it could be the time you spend in the 'field' for your career, which ever one applies to you just make sure that your professional experiences speak for themselves. Don't depend on your looks, your connections, or your 'charm' to get you 'in'. Get your education, get the experience, put in the hours, get your qualifications, (remember there's no such thing as being over qualified - that's ridiculous!) and then get yourself to where you need to be by building your reputation off of your work. Nina was disciplined and she was set on becoming a concert pianist before becoming an internationally renowned singer. So even if your original goal is only apart of your bigger picture and not the centre of it, focus on being great regardless. Study continuously, and discipline yourself so that when you get to the point where you feel that you are a master at what you do, it will seem as if you've been preparing yourself from the age of three to reach that level of excellence.
 Images: Jack Robinson/Getty Images, David Redfern/Getty Images, Duffy/Getty Images, GAB Archive/Getty Images
February 21, 1933 - April 21, 2003 (age 70)