Jazz and blues singer Nina Simone, considered by many to be one of the finest singers and songwriters of her generation, died nearly a decade ago.
But the music continues in the form of her only child, a multitalented vocal artist known only as Simone, who is very much her mother’s daughter.
With an impressive resume including two starring roles in Broadway musicals, Simone will take the stage at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 17. Joining her on the double bill will be the youngest member of the first family of jazz, Jason Marsalis.
“Needless to say, my mother had a huge influence on me,” Simone said. “But because her journey in the music industry wasn’t exactly a bed of roses, she wasn’t thrilled with my choice to go into the industry myself.“
Nina Simone became one of the most powerful symbols of the civil rights movement in the ’60s and suffered from her outspoken songs and deeds, abandoning America eventually to live out the rest of her life in France.
“And because my mother had a hard time separating her experiences from what my experiences could be, she didn’t want me to go through the same sort of pain, heartache and disappointments,” her daughter said. “On one hand, she lauded my singing talent and loved watching me perform. On the other hand, she tried desperately to keep me from going through all the sharks in the bloody waters that were sure to follow.”
And so Simone listened to her mother, forgot her own dream and went into the military. She served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 10 years.
“But there was a fire in my belly that just wouldn’t go away,” she explained. “I hated what I was doing and couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life. I wanted to make a different choice, and that’s when music came back into my life. I couldn’t escape from the joy that came to me when I sang, and I realized that’s how I wanted to live my life.”
Fortunately, Simone seems to have made it through the very roughest of times that plagued her mother. Her Broadway role in Aida garnered her the National Broadway Theater Award for Best Actress in a Musical. And for her appearance in Rent, she was nominated for the Helen Hayes and Jefferson Awards for her role as Mimi Marquez.
Influenced by many other artists — including Lionel Ritchie, the Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, the music of Motown and so much more — Simone said her music is a diverse combination of pop, soul, jazz, rock and funk.
“Growing up, I listened to everything and the radio was very prevalent in my home,” she explained. “I guess you could call me the radio-listening queen. I could sing along with hundreds of songs, and in my repertoire I still prefer to do the same thing.”
And that’s exactly what audiences can expect to hear at Annenberg, she added, along with a pre-show talk with her.
“I really like to meet my audience, shake their hands, let them take pictures, and get to know me. I think that sets me aside from a lot of other artists, and it’s something I do often,” she said.
In 2008, Simone produced her one and only CD to date, titled Simone on Simone, a big band tribute to her mother.
“It’s my way to give a glimpse of my life over the decades,” she said, “and a chance for me to do the songs I love the most the way I first heard them and still hear them today.”
In 2010, Simone recorded a new version of her mother’s original classic, Four Women for Tyler Perry’s film, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
Encouraged by the continued support around her, Simone said her commitment today “is to keep singing, keep writing, keep performing, and keep spreading the word of healing and love.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-898-3900.