"Black is the color of my true love’s
hair. His face so soft and wondrous there. The purest eyes and the strongest
hands. I love the ground on where he stands. I love the ground he stands. Black
is the color of my true love’s hair. Of my true love’s hair. Of my true love’s
– "Black Is the Color Of My True Love’s
Hair" by Nina Simone
Those were the first lyrics I heard from the
High Priestess of Soul, Ms. Nina Simone. The first time I heard Nina was on
a groundbreaking documentary on Black Gay Men called "Tongues Untied,"
by Emmy Award-winning director, Marlon Riggs.
Hers was a deep vibrato who sang of loving a
black man with strong features and strong hands about loving the ground on where
he stands. Nina sang of love lost, celebrating brown beauty, in ways that made
you love the beauty of our skin.
Simone co-wrote the popular "Young, Gifted,
& Black" with Weldon Irvine, Jr. covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny
Hathaway. Somewhat of a world traveler, Simone settled at various points in
Switzerland, Liberia, Barbados, Britain and France where she lived up until
The divine diva sang "Ne Me Quitte Pas,"
so fluidly in French having lived there for a many years. "Black Is the
Color Of My True Love’s Hair" is the first song I heard from Nina Simone.
Legendary jazz singer, song writer, musician
and activist Nina Simone passed away Monday at her home in France at the age
of 70 after her health had diminished greatly. My recollections of her are fond
indeed as she slowly came into my life and I grew to love her.
While I was working at Columbia Records, the
now deceased artist, Jeff Buckley turned me on to her even more. We used to
sit by my desk and talk about Nina Simone, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah
Jeff Buckley loved Nina Simone so much that he
covered her "Lilac Wine" so beautifully it’s difficult for me to listen
to his interpretation with dry eyes. I remember him those days, those conversations,
and how much he loved Nina.
But someone else loved Nina too. If you listen
to AZ’s "Pieces Of A Man," album, Nina Simone is sampled on two tracks
produced by Goldfinga: the album’s intro and on "Love Is Love."
Here again Nina delivering incantations which
even on a hip-hop record summon you to some far away place – After listening
to AZ’s album, I replaced the cassette tapes Buckley gave me with CD versions
– two of which have become a part of my daily ritual.
In my alarm clock in the morning I rise to the
"Ultimate Nina Simone" and close my business day with "Quiet
Now – Night Song." But other artists ranging from Talib Kweli to dead prez
to Wu-Tang have taken bits and pieces from Nina to create their own compositions.
Her work, "Ultimate Nina Simone" album,
opens up "Images," an acapella celebration of the beauty of a black
women – black women who through their struggle cannot see their beauty. Nina
sings, "She does not know her beauty. She thinks her brown glory, she thinks
her brown body has no glory. If she could dance naked under palm trees and see
her image in the river, she would know, yes she would know."
On the same Ultimate Nina Simone, album is the
classic "Four Women" where Ms. Simone introduces four very different
black women – Aunt Sarah (described with black skin, wooly hair, strong back)
, Saphonia (mulatto, yellow skinned, long hair, product of rape by white father),
Sweet Thing (hair described as fine, inviting hips, mouth like wine – prostitute),
and Peaches (sassy, bitter, frustrated with society). I believe there’s an off-Broadway
play running which interprets Simone’s "Four Women."
On another favorite, "Wild Is the Wind,"
she sings romantically…"Love Me, Love Me, Love me, say you do. Let
me fly away with you. For my love is like the wind. Wild is the wind. Give me
more than one caress. Satisfy this hungriness. Let the wind blow through your
heart. For wild is the wind. You touch me and I hear the sound of mandolins.
You kiss me and with your kiss my life begins," lyrics that you just don’t
hear anymore. Makes you want to fall in love.
Nina Simone was one of the last of the great
divas of song. Like Phyllis Hyman, she sang of loneliness and finding love in
the same note. Her wails, low tones, and delivery echoed from the very depths
of her soul, giving a little black girl permission to love her brownness and
lovers reasons to hold hands.
Her songs were about the seasons of love. Finding
someone and losing them and discovering love again, about his hair, the way
he feels. She paints pictures and textures which swirl around her mesmerizing
vocals. Her rendition of "I Put A Spell On You," may be the most haunting
if not the definitive version.
Nina was the beginning and end of my day and
if you listen closely, you’ll hear Nina Simone’s "Quiet Now – Night Song,"
playing softly in the background when you call 4Sight Media Relations.
"What More Can I Say," Nina…Thank
you for your "Night Song." Good night High Priestess of Soul. Rest