A terrific documentary on the life of this important vocalist in jazz, plus a CD of some the songs most associated with her career. 

What Happened, Miss Simone?, Blu-ray + CD (2015)

Director: Liz Garbus
Cast: Nina Simone and many of her friends and family
Studio: Netflix/RadicalMedia/Moxie Firecracker Prod./Universal/Eagle Vision Blu-ray EVB335429 (9/2/16) + standard CD (2 discs)
Video: 1080i for 16:9 screens, HD color & B&W
Audio: English DTS-5.1 HD-MA, PCM stereo (CD – 44.1K/16-bit stereo)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese
Rating: *****

The story of her life and career is shown thru bits of archived interviews, extensive footage of her performances, and new interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Simone started out as a little black girl classical pianist of great talent, beginning at the age of four, who was turned away by Curtis Institute due to her race. She became a jazz and pop pianist, a unique vocalist, songwriter, singer, performer, civil rights activist, wife and mother, victim of abuse and a black icon.

Simone’s career in music began when she had to earn money and began by playing and singing jazz and blues in nightclubs. She was considered by many to be too black, short and ugly to become a great performer.  Sometimes her classical training came thru in her complex keyboard work. She became very involved in the civil rights movement and hurt her show and club appearances because of the increasing percentage of protest and strong political songs in her repertory. Mississippi Goddam was a turning point in her career.

Her husband-manager worked her career very hard and eventually became abusive, beating her up. She later on left him and moved to first Liberia, and then Switzerland, where Claude Nobs hired her for a very successful appearance at his Montreux Jazz Festival. She later beat her daughter and a Dutch doctor finally prescribed medication for her bipolar disorder.  She lived in Paris in the ‘90s, a life of tortured melancholy,  and died in 2003.  The interview comments by Al Schackman – her guitarist – and comic Dick Gregory are especially fascinating in getting a more complete picture of Nine Simone, as are the excerpts from some of her performances. The standard CD of 15 of her great tunes is a fine provided extra, the final one in French. Their sources are not listed, but one interviewee says that her early Philips albums were completely different from the later protest-centered RCA albums.

CD TrackList:

1. I Loves You Porgy 2. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood 3. I Put A Spell On You 4. Strange Fruit 5. Sinnerman 6. Mississippi Goddam 7. Little Girl Blue 8. Don’t Smoke In Bed 9. My Baby Just Cares For Me 10. Lilac Wine 11. Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair 12. Night Song 13. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out 14. Feeling Good 15. Ne Me Quitte Pas

—John Sunier