Category Archives: musicians

Dr. Nina Simone: The High Priestess of Soul

Last year I offered a challenge: tell me about your favorite musician and why you love ’em. Kelsey McCune’s response earned an original portrait of Nina Simone, shown here (with her response below). Thanks again to all of you who contributed. There were many excellent, thoughtful responses. Maybe I should do it again. Favorite writers? Favorite pets? Favorite FOOD? What do you think?

Thanks again, Kelsey — for the great writing and the inspiration.

"Nina Simone: The High Priestess of Soul"

Kelsey writes:

Music. Sometimes in the background lilting and subtle, coaxing conversation, helping me melt into the bath tub, or turn soil in my garden. Other times the all encompassing only thing that matters, driving rhythms dancing through my veins—moving my body, my mind. Solace, inspiration, motivation, even distraction…but always a constant.

Music as a time and a place, people and conversations.

I found an old Police cassette tape in my truck the other day. The heat and passing years had stretched Sting’s voice out into a mad warbling, but still I was whisked immediately back to the road trip through Arizona when I bought that tape, my first time driving in the snow, a lover of nearly a decade ago by my side, his hand on my thigh reassuring, and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” in time with the wipers.
Cat Stevens “Wild World” when that same lover and I parted ways.
Ravi Shankar and I’m a child breathing in the scent of my father’s pungent pipe tobacco, hearing the pages of his book turn, a clearing of the throat and sitar as I drift off to sleep.
Right now I’m listening to Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet as I often do when I write.

So much music in the world. More than any one of us will ever be able to discover. So many moments defined, made prismatic and eternal. How to choose just one?

I have to go with my first thought when I read your blog.

Dr. Nina Simone. “The High Priestess of Soul!”

Her voice commands and leads me through a breadth of emotion that is unparalleled. From joyous to outraged, melancholy, contemplative, giddy laughter, tears. There are times when her lyrics can simply fall away; she could be singing about asparagus, but her voice and piano will lift you or crush you at will. That said, her lyrics are often of the utmost importance. Sometimes, as with “Mississippi Goddam” she juxtaposes her lyrics and music against one another to end up highlighting the poignancy of her position.

She was immensely talented, spectacularly versatile and hugely politically important, but to bring this back to my idea of crystallized moments in life I have to look specifically at “Lilac Wine.”
This is not an original song, but as far as I’m concerned, she owns it. Her voice is to my ears, dank and syrupy the way I imagine Lilac wine would be to my tongue.

And when I hear this song I am with Nancy and Mary Anne—my cheeks are cool from drying tears and as the song says, “I drink much more than I ought to drink, because it brings me back you…” We are not drinking Lilac wine, far from it. Nancy drinks icy light beer, barely tinted yellow if she were to pour it into a glass, Mary Anne drinks bottles of cheap red wine that purple her lips, and I have my bourbon and soda (more or less soda depending, as the night progresses.) And the you we bring back is my mom, Nancy’s sister, Mary Anne’s friend.

This song and Nina Simone’s grounding voice provide an opening to touch on things that are hard to access on our own. No matter what the conversation is before “Lilac Wine” comes on—afterward we always turn to remembrances and are always better for it.

And when I’m away from Nancy and Mary Anne, Nina Simone brings them back to me too.

So powerful this thing, this constant. Music.

Thank you Dr. Nina Simone, and thank you John for the inspiration.



Filed under musicians, original art, portraits