Nina Simone Black Diva Power

The singer-songwriter's activism returns to the stage

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This article is from 2015.

Nina Simone Black Diva Power

Australian playwright Neil Cole’s play Nina Simone Black Diva Power imagines the meeting between American music icon Nina Simone and African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry.

Simone is known as a singer and diva but she was also a passionate political activist. Ruth Rogers-Wright, the Brixton-born, Melbourne-based singer, identifies Hansberry as an important influence: 'She encouraged Nina Simone to use her voice as an instrument for the movement and to inspire people for the Civil Rights Movement.'

Hansberry first found fame with her play A Raisin in the Sun, still regarded as a vital script that gave voice to African-American experience, but her poem 'To Be Young, Gifted, and Black' inspired Simone’s song of the same name. Rogers-Wright explains: 'She asked Nina Simone to finish that poem for her and we all know 'Young, Gifted, and Black', the song. And literally it was finished a few days after Lorraine Hansberry died. And so I think Nina Simone always kept that promise to Lorraine Hansberry. And so that’s why even though she recorded over 600 tunes, if you saw her show she always did 'Mississippi Goddam', she’d always do 'Four Women'. So she’d always put her black thing in which isn’t always necessarily the kind of popular pop message.'

While the piece takes a political angle, it’s not without what made the High Priestess of Soul famous. The play, Rogers-Wright says, is 'basically in a nutshell loads of songs.'

As she prepares to channel Simone, whom she saw perform about five times, Rogers-Wright voices her own personal admiration for a woman who was such a distinctive individual. 'When you think about it she wasn’t selling being the most beautiful woman in a conventional manner, she didn’t have to show her body, she didn’t have to have any gimmicks and that’s kind of what she’s saying, and there’s a message there I think for everybody.' And in Rogers-Wright's continued championing of her artistry and political passion, her legacy is kept alive and singing.

New Town Theatre, Freemason’s Hall, Thu 6 Aug–Sun 30 Aug (not Mon), £14 (£12). Previews Thu 6 & Fri 7 Aug, £7.

This article is from 2015.

Nina Simone Black Diva Power

Art Events Australia Following huge success at Adelaide Cabaret Festival (four-star reviews), Melbourne-based and Brixton-born-and-raised jazz diva, the acclaimed Ruth Rogers-Wright plays Nina Simone during the period when she grew from popular jazz and blues singer to become the voice of the civil rights movement in…

Comments

1. Joseph R8 Aug 2015, 12:19pm Report

That picture is NOT Ruth Rogers-Wright, that is Apphia Campbell in her show "Black is The Color of My Voice" which is also on at the Edinburgh Festival this year. Bad journalism.

2. Calypso_Spirit9 Aug 2015, 5:18pm Report

Hi Joseph. You are mistaken. That is indeed a picture of Ruth Rogers-Wright and it has been used as the image of this show through the Australian tour and is printed on our merchandise. They are both beautiful women with similar features but this is definitely Ruth.

3. Researcher10 Aug 2015, 8:27pm Report

Doing work on Hansberry and would love to be pointed to the documentation that supports the information on Hansberry's poem and the Simone connection:

"but her poem 'To Be Young, Gifted, and Black' inspired Simone’s song of the same name. Rogers-Wright explains: 'She asked Nina Simone to finish that poem for her and we all know 'Young, Gifted, and Black', the song. And literally it was finished a few days after Lorraine Hansberry died."

We know from our research that Hansberry left her sick bed, where she was unknowingly dying of cancer, to give a speech on May 1, 1964 to young black writers who won a contest: “I wanted to be able to come here and speak with you on this occasion because you are young, gifted, and black. In the month of May in the year 1964, I, for one, can think of no more dynamic combination that a person might be…The Negro writer stands surrounded by the whirling elements of this world. He stands neither on a fringe nor utterly involved: the prime observer waiting poised for inclusion…And that is why I say to you that, though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic — to be young, gifted, and black. Look at the work that awaits you! Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be — if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking — but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don't pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. This Nation needs your gifts. Perfect them!”

We also have learned from secondary source information attributed to Simone's daughter that Simone wrote the song with Weldon Irvine, who contributed the lyrics. Hansberry died in 1965 and the song was released first as a single in 1969.

4. Joseph R17 Aug 2015, 9:43pm Report

Thankfully the photo was amended. Thanks!

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