January 1971, Comments from Sam Waymon (Nina Simone's brother) in conversation with David Nathan in Amsterdam
Nina was in Europe during a transitional time in her career: recently divorced from her husband/manager, she was preparing to record a new album (which would morph into "Emergency Ward") and take some much-needed vacation time. Her brother Sam had taken over her business affairs and shaed some of her activities during a conversation in Amsterdam prior to a Simone television taping. A review of that live TV show performance was included in this article...
It has been noted by her many fans and soul people generally, there has been a marked silence from the High Priestess of Soul for some time – particularly record wise – so that I greeted the news of Nina’s concerts in Holland with great relief and was naturally delighted to have the opportunity, through the auspices of “Blue & Soul”, to see Nina personally to find out what had been happening and to review her in-person appearance.
Nina has recently been involved obtaining a divorce from her former manager, hence the need for a total reorganisation of her business affairs. She is now managed by her very capable brother, Sam Waymon, who filled me in on exactly on what’s been happening. Just prior to her last engagement in July, Nina played at the famed Fillmore East in New York., which many might regard as a rather strange and unsuitable venue for the lady. It was her second appearance there and, in contrast to her first one, when she was on the bill with Isaac Hayes and Miles Davis, she was the sole attraction. The concert was highly successful and the Fillmore audience proved that Nina is definitely a firm favourite with everyone!
It was at this juncture that Nina decided to take an indefinite vacation – her first in over fourteen years non-stop work! During this period a great deal has been happening for her, however, and Nina has been prominently featured in the three important American magazines. In October, Albert Goldman wrote a piece on her, entitled “The Return of The Queen of Shebang” for ‘Life’ magazine in which he noted how, in contrast to many other ‘jazz’ singers, Nina has adapted to the changing audiences via her repertoire and had found a great deal of success in consequence. During November, ‘Essence’ featured Nina with her daughter Lisa in a series of fashion photographs which must be amongst the best she’s ever had taken. In the December issue of ‘Redbook’ magazine, well-known poet and writer Maya Angelou did a three-page spread on the High Priestess. In addition, work has now begun on Nina’s autobiography which is being written by columnist Nikki Giovanni for publication either at the end of 1971 or the beginning of 1972.
On the recording scene, Nina is still pacted to R.C.A. Victor and has been preparing a new album for January/February release in the States. To be called “The Ghetto Suite”, it will feature several compositions by Galt MacDermot, one of the songwriters from “Hair”. Nina herself has been busy writing music for poems written by black children from the Bronx aged between six and fifteen. The album is due to be cut either live in concert or in front of an invited studio audience during the course of the next fortnight and no doubt a single will be culled from it. Meantime, the “Young, Gifted and Black” concept has been gaining impetus inspired by Nina’s composition of the same name and apparently a number of buildings have been re-dedicated and have had name changed!
LIVE…. Although Nina did not make any live appearances during the latter half of 1970, she has been far from inactive. And her Amsterdam concert on Friday, January 8 proved that Nina Simone is still a unique figure in the soul world today. Despite several problems – for which Nina was not responsible – her appearance at the Conertgebouw re-affirmed everyone’s faith and loyalty in her. The major problem was the lack of rehearsal on the part of the Boy Edgar band who opened the concert and who provided Nina’s backing and although she had originally been scheduled to do five songs (Nina was appearing as a special guest on the programme which was televised), this was cut to three.
In a stunning red–and-fur gown, specially designed for the occasion, Nina opened with a very jazzy version of “Compared To What”, written by Gene McDaniels and recorded by Roberta Flack. Nina drew as much from the lyrics as she could and the effect was remarkable. It’s powerful song and it was powerfully delivered. She followed Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” against a simple bongo, guitar and piano accompanient which was very effective.
Nina was then scheduled to finish with Judy Collins’ “My Father’ – a new and very beautiful song – but again, due to lack of rehearsal by the band, she had to do it again after a bad beginning by the pianist. The audience was naturally angry that this appeared to complete Nina’s section of the programme and several people left the hall in protest.
However, being a true artiste, Nina refused to disappoint the many who had come to see her and after a hurried consultation with the bandleader and co., she returned to the concert platform. This time accompanying herself on the piano, Nina went into “Strange Fruit”, a chilling, bitter song was always a highlight off Billie Holiday’s repertoire. It’s the moving poem about the stark and shocking realities of American Deep South, which were daily occurrences up until a few years ago. Seldom has Nina performed it so perfectly and during her performance there was not a sound to be heard.
With basic accompaniment from the drummer, Nina swung into “To Love Somebody” and decided to complete her spot with a beautiful rendition – again accompanied solely with her own inimitable piano – of “My Father” which proved ample compensation for the problems experienced earlier in performing this tune. Naturally, the audience demanded more and it come in a memorable version of “See Line Woman” a perennial Simone favourite, which called for the audience participation. Nina then left a very satisfied audience to standing ovations and took with her several bouquets from contented fans!
The future certainly looks very promising for Nina and in addition to her current album, she will be recording another one during June or July. She will be back on the road in March for college dates until July and no doubt will be doing several television dates during this period. Present plans called for Nina to do a European tour either late 1971 or early 1972.
And the lady herself? She is as alert and alive as ever and very positive about the year to come and assured me that “1971 is going to be an important, decisive and big year for us” – to which all her fans can only add – right on, Nina!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.