What would be a more fitting tribute for the Apollo Theater to recognize Women’s History Month than presenting a musical tribute to the renowned musical artist, civil rights activist and Apollo legend Nina Simone.
Drawing from Simone’s talent that spanned four decades, soulful singer / songwriter — nine albums — and 12-time GRAMMY Award nominee Ledisi added her own songs in “Nina & Me, Ledisi celebrates Nina Simone,” in the one evening March 9 tribute.
Simone’s musical style employed a broad range of musical genres including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. An icon of American music, she was a musical storyteller, a griot, who created a legacy of liberation, empowerment, passion and love.
Born in North Carolina in 1933, Simone had aspirations to be a concert pianist but racial discrimination negatively impacted those dreams. She found work playing “cocktail piano” in a nightclub, changed her name to Nina Simone to camouflage her work from her preacher family and, singing to her own accompaniment, launched her jazz career.
She recorded 40 albums. In her live 1964 recording “Nina Simone in Concert,” she openly addressed United States racial inequality with the song “Mississippi Goddam,” her response to the June 12, 1963 murder of Medgar Evers. Civil rights messages continued as a standard in her repertoire, taking a toll on her career.
She lived a great deal of her life — with more than a share of highs and lows — abroad including Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland and Netherlands finally settling in France.
At the historic theater, the air was electric and the devotees were completely engaged with Ledisi as storyteller and singer backed by extraordinary musicians.
Ledisi sang Nina Simone originals: “Mississipi Goddam,” “See Line Woman,” and “I want a little Sugar in My Bowl.”
She sang the songs Simone made her own like “Little Girl Blue,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “I Put a Spell On You,” “I Love You Porgy,” and “My Man’s Gone Now.”
And, backed by guest vocalists Crystal Monee Hall, Kimberly Nichole, We McDonald, “Baltimore,” “To Be Young Gifted and Black,” “Four Women,” and “Why” came to life.
Performing her own songs — the “Me” in “Nina & Me,” Ledisi included “Feeling Orange Again but Blue Sometimes,” “Shot Down,” “Hate Me,” and “The Answer to Why.”
Of note, in 2015, Ledisi appeared in the movie “Selma” as gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and she was a main character in the short film “The Tale of Four,” directed by Gabourey Sidibe, that was screened at The Apollo prior to the show.
The evening’s award-winning musicians included four-time Grammy nominee Patrice Rushen, on piano.
“Her [Nina Simone’s] legacy lifted me and reminded me to be proud of my skin and embrace the walk I was given. I hope she can feel how much I love her,” comments Ledisi, of the inspiration of this tribute project. “She has saved my life so many times. Her music lets me know I am not alone in my journey.”