Nina Simone film honors exceptional artist, driven rights activist

Fri Feb 13, 2015 9:35am EST
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By Michael Nienaber and Rollo Ross

BERLIN (Reuters) - A forthright documentary about Nina Simone premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, showing the life of a woman who struggled to find peace amid her roles as the high priestess of soul and as a committed civil rights activist.

"What happened, Miss Simone?" by director Liz Garbus mixes archive footage from the singer and pianist's long career with interviews and tapes, showcasing her musical talent and political dedication.

"My mother was one of the greatest entertainers of all time, hands down. But she paid a huge price," her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, also executive producer of the biopic, says in the film.

The documentary describes Simone as a brilliant performer, but also a vibrant revolutionary who used the stage to speak out to the black community.

"But when the show ended, everybody else went home, she was alone and she was still fighting, but she was fighting her own demons, full of anger and rage," her daughter says.

The film covers the early years of Simone, born Eunice Waymon in a small town in North Carolina where her mother, a preacher, took her to church to play the piano.

"She was alien to me," Simone says in the film about her first piano teacher, an elderly white lady. "She started me on Bach. And this Bach, I liked him."

Simone studied to become the first black female classical pianist in America. "And that's all I had on my mind. That was what I was prepared to be."   Continued...