Nina Simone drew upon gospel, classical, jazz and pop music to forge an eclectic career that included over 40 albums. How many other artists could successfully cover Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht (“Pirate Jenny”) and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (“I Put A Spell On You”)? Her highly skilled piano playing helped her navigate so many styles. Nina was also a civil rights activist and incorporated songs like her “Mississippi Goddam” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” into her records and performances.
In 1966 she wrote and recorded “Four Women”, where she sings in character as four very different African-American women shaped by slavery and segregation. Some critics feel that “Pirate Jenny” was a explicit influence. Most listeners will have a strong emotional response to this signature piece.
Singer Rebecca Ferguson has said she would accept an invitation to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration on 20 January on one condition: she be allowed to sing Strange Fruit.
First recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939 and covered by Nina Simone in 1965, Strange Fruit is one of the nation’s most famous songs about racism. The lyrics by Abel Meeropol graphically describe the lynchings of African-Americans:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Ferguson – a British singer who became well-known after appearing on 2010’s X Factor in the UK, memorably performing Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem A Change is Gonna Come – called Strange Fruit “a song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States” in a Twitter statement introduced with the words “inauguration ceremony” explaining that she would appear at Trump’s inauguration only if she could sing that song:
I’ve been asked and this is my answer. If you allow me to sing Strange Fruit, a song that has huge historical importance, a song that was blacklisted in the United States for being too controversial. A song that speaks to all the disregarded and downtrodden black people in the United States. A song that is a reminder of how love is the only thing that will conquer all the hatred in this world, then I will graciously accept your invitation and see you in Washington. Best Rebecca X
Following Julie Langford’s instructions on how to create the Lazarus vector to restore oxygen to Arcadia, you’ll find the Rosa Gallica blooming undamaged in the poisonous atmosphere in the Waterfall Grotto. Guarding the entrance are three rogue splicers fighting over a corpse protecting a bottle of Security Evasion as this song plays in the background.
This is arguably the most famous song from Cole Porter’s 1933 Broadway musical, the Gay Divorce. It centers on writer Guy Holden who falls in love with Mimi while visiting in England. She disappears and a despondent Holden is taken by his attorney friend, Teddy Egbert to Brighton Beach. Egbert is arranging conditions for a divorce for a client who despises her boring husband by having a “paid co-respondent” meet with her. Of course, the woman turns out to be Mimi and Holden reunites with her. The husband arrives and is unconvinced by the faked adultery, but a waiter at the resort reveals that he has been genuinely adulterous himself.
It would be Fred Astaire’s last Broadway show before moving onto pictures. He starred again with Ginger Rogers in the 1934 movie adaption, renamed The Gay Divorcee. The plot remained mostly the same, but most of the original songs were cut from the film, with the exception of “Night and Day”.
Born Eleanora Fagan, she had an extremely troubled childhood with an absentee father and a mother who took desperate measures to make ends meet. After being arrested with her mother for prostitution, she began singing in Harlem night clubs, taking inspiration from actress Billie Dove and her musician father, Clarence Holiday.
Her unique takes on phrasing and tempo led to her engagements with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, as well as Teddy Wilson, Count Basie and Artie Shaw. She developed her trademark finger snapping with her head cocked back while singing, often festooned with a few gardenias. Her friend and saxophonist, Lester Young nicknamed her “Lady Day.
In 1939, she recorded "Strange Fruit” which launched her career to stardom. Holiday also wrote several of her own songs including “God Bless the Child” and “Don’t Explain”. Despite her success, she gained a dark reputation due to abuse of drugs and alcohol. Still, her voice lent a emotional and fragile texture even in her declining years.