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Legacy of Soul: 6 Artists Influenced by Nina Simone

  • 22 Jul 2021 15:31
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Nina Simone

On April 21st 2003, the world lost one of the most important artists of our time – the great Nina Simone. Now, as we mark ten years since the passing of the legendary songstress, it is clear that her influence on the industry still lingers as reflected in the works of dozens of artists across the musical spectrum.

As a special tribute to the immeasurable impact of Simone on R&B, Soul, Gospel, Jazz and classical music, I have compiled a list of six singers who were heavily influenced by her words and sounds. Don’t worry, Jennifer Hudson’s Weight Watchers commercial has been omitted for the sake of peace. Check out the lineup below:

6. Jill Scott

More than just another Blues singer, Simone was a magnificent composer. From her melodies to her lyrics, her music told stories of love, loss, pain and struggle like no other. That storytelling is reflected in the work of Jill Scott, who combines poetry and song into an experience that channels Simone at her best.

Just listen to Scott’s Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 debut album to hear how Scott blurs the lines between R&B, Jazz and Soul in a similar fashion to Simone, who refused to be defined by a singular genre. Even in the classical melodies used in Scott’s almost spoken word vocal arrangements signify a special connection between her and Simone.

Musical selection: “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)”

5. Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan is a legend in her own right but similar to all other great artists, she stands on the shoulders of those who came before her. Undoubtedly, Aretha Franklin has always been the main influence on Khan’s artistry – casual listeners often had trouble observing the differences between the two during the 1970s – but Khan’s extemporaneous Jazz styling is obviously stems from three singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Simone.

Of course, Khan, who was born Yvette Marie Stevens, has something else in common with Simone. During the 1960s, Khan was an outspoken member of the Civil Rights Movement and also joined the Black Panther Party. That streak of black pride remained constant in her later shows as she refused to conform to the white American ideologies of beauty presented in the media.

Musical selection: “I Loves You, Porgy”

4. Erykah Badu

Following closely in Chaka Khan’s footsteps is Erykah Badu, also known as the baddest mother-shut your mouth in show business today. Badu never hesitates to challenge media representations of African-American culture via her songs, videos or unapologetic interviews. She is even known to address other black artists for submitting to the cultural erasure of the arts.

However, controversy is not Badu’s claim to fame. Above all, she is a fantastic singer whose Jazz and Soul influences have earned her comparisons to Khan, Billie Holiday and Simone as she leads the Neo-Soul movement of the modern era. Still, I do love that “Window Seat” video!

Musical selection: “Window Seat”

3. Mary J. Blige

Most people herald Mary J. Blige as the second coming of Aretha Franklin but I strongly disagree. Gritty and raw yet musically sound, Blige rose to fame because she gave a voice to the people on the ground, similar to Simone in her younger years. Indeed, she represented the widely overlooked girls who couldn’t identify with the over-polished Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey divas, thus pioneering a movement in popular culture.

Additionally, Blige’s combinations of R&B, Soul and Jazz with Hip-Hop gives a contemporary twist to Simone’s musical legacy. Yes, the influence of Franklin on Blige is clear as with countless other acts in the industry, but there is no denying that Simone played a key role in the rise of the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul.

Musical selection: “I Can See in Color”

2. Alicia Keys

If we were only discussing Simone’s impact as a pianist, then Alicia Keys would have easily topped the list as the artist she influenced most. Both women represent the very best of their respective generations and as Keys stated in numerous interviews, it was Simone’s playing that gave her inspiration to develop her own craft.

There is a distinct difference between playing the keys like a Gospel act and a classical musician. For instance, compare pieces by Aretha Franklin (“Don’t Play that Song for Me”) and Simone (“Tomorrow is My Turn”). Keys draws from both styles but as song like “De Novo Adagio” prove, she leans more toward the classical arts.

Musical selection: “De Novo Adagio”

1. Lauryn Hill

Does this number one ranking shock you? Well, it shouldn’t. From her husky voice to her politically-driven anthems and unpredictable musical arrangements, Lauryn Hill is our generation’s answer to Simone. In fact, their similarities are so great that many people unsuccessfully called for Hill to portray the latter in the story of her life.

Along with the equally influential Bob Marley, Simone provided the blueprint for Hill’s sound. The passion in her voice as she calls for change without trying to be pitch-perfect rings clear in Hill’s catalogue as a modern champion of R&B, Hip-Hop and Soul. Sadly, Hill’s career has taken a backseat to her legal troubles but her small collection of songs is so monumental that she never needs to record another hit.

Musical selection: “War In The Mind or Freedom Time”


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