The Amazing Nina Simone

Little Eunice Waymon from Tryon, North Carolina, grew up "Young, Gifted and Black." After elementary school, she attended a private all-girls high school, graduated as Valedictorian, then landed a job in an Atlantic City night club. She didn't want her gospel-oriented parents to know where she was working, so she used "Nina" (Spanish for little girl) and "Simone" (in honor of French actress Simone Signoret) and VOILA! a star was born.

A piano prodigy from age three, she was always gifted, opinionated, and outspoken. For example, at her first formal recital in her home town (she was 12 years old), her parents were seated in the front row but it was in the days of Jim Crow, so her mother and father were quietly moved to a back room. When she came out to play, she refused to play a note until they were moved back to their front-row seats.

In this wonderfully researched documentary by Jeff L. Lieberman ("Making of..." documentaries), we watch her grow as an artist and also as an activist. She couldn't get that job in the night club until she proved she could sing, so her unique vocal style was born in that moment, but she was convinced she missed out on a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute because of the color of her skin. An elderly board member remembers the incident and insists it was discrimination all right, but it was because she was female, not because she was black (she went to Juilliard instead).

We hear interviews with members of her backup band, friends, relatives, a woman who was a child when her parents rescued Nina from an abusive relationship...at midnight...in Manhattan... We hear from members of the press who had interviewed her, theater owners, night club owners, record company executives and health care professionals.

We see her marriages, love affairs, successes, failures, struggles and her increasing activism and notoriety. Unfortunately, that increased activism seemed to coincide with her increasingly bi-polar symptoms, so that part is interesting, but not pleasant.

I absolutely LOVED a bit right near the beginning where she is in the middle of a performance and stops, dead. Then she points at someone in the audience and says, "Sit DOWN!" There is a long silence. She points again and repeats her command; the audience titters as the guilty party sits down. She was never afraid to speak her mind and commanded respect wherever she went.

I owned some of her albums (none of the many bootlegged ones!) and was so happy to hear snippets of my favorites. By the way, there are no captions and there is not a moment where I needed them! Whew!
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I can't find a trailer yet.
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