I love Nina Simone.
I love her musical style, I love her intelligence as an artist, and I love the politics (both subtle and overt) threaded through all of her work. To hear her sing “Why (The King of Love Is Dead)” is to hear all of the grief, all of its layers and complexity, in all of its political and social and personal dimensions as it swirls around the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is exhausting and powerful and amazing. This shit is real.
Here’s the thing about Nina Simone, though — her shit is always real.
One of my favorite things about both Nina Simone and Bessie Smith (as well as a whole lot of other awesome women who do the blues) is that, at their best, they reclaim an otherwise pretty masculine genre and assert their own place in it. In their voices, women’s lives and women’s sexuality belong to the women themselves (for a change) instead of being objects and sources of interest or conflict for men.
This week, I’ve got two songs that reflect this reclaimed voice. Today’s entry, “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” is done by both Simone and Smith, in fact — Smith’s original version is more overtly raunchy, but both toy with metaphors in pretty much the same way. I’m doing both songs on an acoustic guitar, no fuss no muss, and trying to make it sound more or less OK. I sort of country-and-westerned the thing up, but it’s still OK, I think.
Tomorrow, I’m going to work my weak jazz chord skills on another one, as I continue to explore the awesomeness.