Few artists poured as much beauty and intensity into their performances as Nina Simone (1933 – 2003). Every chord struck, every note sang she did with utter passion and longing with a voice brimming at times with vulnerability, and at others a bewildering sense of the unjust. Watching and listening to her performances, it’s difficult not to be carried away by her passion, and feel the hairs on one’s neck prickle.
Pirate Jenny is taken from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. In this song the prostitute and hotel maid, Low-Dive Jenny, sings of her desired revenge on all the townsfolk who have wronged her. A pirate ship then enters the harbour. Cannons rage and flatten every building save for Jenny’s hotel. The pirates then capture the townsfolk and present them to Jenny, asking her: ‘kill them now, or later?’. After Jenny has exacted her revenge she sails away with them in the ‘black freighter’.
Nina originally recorded this song around 1964 during the American Civil Rights Movement. This gives it especial poignancy. Jenny’s contempt was the contempt of black people towards their unjust treatment, with the ‘black freighter’ symbolising the revolution.
Pirate Jenny (recorded in 1992 at the International Jazz Festival in Montreal)
At around the same time, Nina Simone recorded Mississippi Goddam in response to the murder of World War II veteran and civil rights activist Medgar Evers. He had sought to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi, and lived under constant death threats. Evers was shot dead by white supremacists in 1963. The song also references the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama where four young African-American girls died after dynamite was planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
If she were alive today, Nina Simone would be singing these songs with the same resentment and passion as she had all those decades ago. And her performance would feel just as powerful to us today as they did to audiences back then.
Mississippi Goddam (1964)
In response to daily prompt: Prickle