Nina Simone Studies

‘Nina Simone Studies’ is a name that has been used by several people now to categorise scholarly writing about the artist. This disciplinary field has been described as ’emerging’ (by Mailk Haines in a 2013 article: not open access), ‘small if growing’ (by Manohla Dargis in a 2015 film review for The New York Times), ‘burgeoning’ (by Claudia Roth Pierpont in a lengthy 2014 feature for The New Yorker, and by the author(s) of a Simone-themed call for papers in 2018) and ‘thriving’ (by Daphne Brooks in a 2016 review essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books).

The list of resources below is drawn from research undertaken for my publications and presentations on Nina Simone as well as teaching materials I have been using since 2005. Simone has been a regular case study in my university courses, especially Popular Music and Authenticity and American Popular Music. I’m often asked by students on these courses for further reading and this is one of the reasons I’ve put this list together. Another is my occasional frustration at the way that scholarly and journalistic work on Simone is not always very rigorous when it comes to citing precursors and fellow scholars.

The list initially consists of written texts, with an emphasis on books, scholarly articles and book chapters and in-depth features by journalists, reviewers and cultural critics. As time allows, I hope to expand the list to include more audiovisual or multimedia materials. Speaking of precursors, there is still an excellent Nina Simone Database hosted at Mauro Boscarol’s website.* I found this an invaluable resource when I was writing my book about Nina Simone, especially when it came to identifying different recordings of her music. I am not attempting to emulate the detailed discographic material compiled by Boscarol and am only listing audio recordings for now if they contain useful liner notes.

This list was first compiled, and the text above written, in May 2019.

List updated in February 2022.

* Since writing this text in 2019, the Simone database at Boscarol’s site has become less accessible.

Books

  • Acker, Kerry. Nina Simone. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.
  • Bratcher, Melanie E. Words and Songs of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone: Sound Motion, Blues Spirit, and African Memory. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Brun-Lambert, David. Nina Simone: The Biography. London: Aurum, 2009.
  • Cohodas, Nadine. Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone. New York: Pantheon, 2010.
  • Elliott, Richard. Nina Simone. Sheffield: Equinox, 2013.
  • Hampton, Sylvia and David Nathan. Nina Simone: Break Down & Let It All Out. London: Sanctuary, 2004.
  • Hirsch, Mathilde and Florence Noiville. Nina Simone: Love Me or Leave Me. Paris: Tallandier, 2019. [French language]
  • Light, Alan. What Happened, Miss Simone? A Biography. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2016.
  • Simone, Nina and Stephen Cleary. I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone. New York: Da Capo Press, 2003 [originally published in 1991].

Journal articles and book chapters

  • Baraka, Amiri. ‘Nina Returns’. In Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music, 56-71. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.
  • Berman, Russell A. ‘Sounds Familiar? Nina Simone’s Performances of Brecht/Weill Songs’. In Sound Matters: Essays on the Acoustics of Modern German Culture, edited by Nora M. Alter and Lutz Koepnick. New York: Berghahn Books, 2004, 171-82.
  • Brooks, Daphne A. ‘Nina Simone’s Triple Play’. Callaloo 34, no. 1 (2011): 176-97.
  • Brooks, Daphne A. ‘Afro-sonic Feminist Praxis: Nina Simone and Adrienne Kennedy in High Fidelity’. In Black Performance Theory, edited by Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
  • Brooks, Daphne A. ‘Nina Simone’. In Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé, Girls Groups to Riot Grrrl, ed. Evelyn McDonnell. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2018.
  • Brown, Jayna. ‘Black Sonic Refusal’. In The Female Voice in the Twentieth Century: Material, Symbolic and Aesthetic Dimensions, edited by Serena Facci and Michela Garda, 102–16. London: Routledge, 2021.
  • Bruce, La Marr Jurelle. ‘Interludes in Madtime: Black Music, Madness, and Metaphysical Syncopation’. Social Text 35, no. 4 (2017): 1-31. https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-4223369. A version of this text appears as Chapter 7 of Bruce’s How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity, 201-30. Durham. NC: Duke University Press, 2021. Simone is also referenced elsewhere in the book.
  • Chambers-Letson, Joshua. After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life. New York: New York University Press, 2018. [Introduction: ‘I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’, 1-36; Chapter 1: ‘Nina Simone and the Work of Minoritarian Performance’, 37-80.]
  • Dyson, Michael Eric. ‘“Speech Is My Hammer”: Black Preaching, Social Justice, and Rap Rhetoric’. In Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture and Religion. New York: Basic Civitas, 2003, 289-304. [Discusses Talib Kweli’s ‘cover version’ of ‘Four Women’]
  • Elliott, Richard. ‘So Transported: Nina Simone, “My Sweet Lord” and the (Un)folding of Affect’. In Sound, Music, Affect: Theorizing Sonic Experience, edited by Marie Thompson and Ian Biddle. London: Bloomsbury, 2013, 75-90.
  • Elliott, Richard. ‘Across the Evening Sky: The Late Voices of Sandy Denny, Judy Collins and Nina Simone’. In Gender, Age and Musical Creativity, edited by Catherine Haworth and Lisa Colton. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015, 141-53.
  • Ellis, Warren. Nina Simone’s Gum. London: Faber & Faber, 2021. [included here rather than ‘Books’ because it’s only partly about Simone – a fascinating, weird, obsessive book for those interested in evocative objects, definitely haunted by Simone if not always ‘about’ her]
  • Feldman, Martha, ‘Voice Gap Crack Break’. In The Voice as Something More: Essays toward Materiality, edited by Martha Feldman and Judith T. Zeitlin, 188-208. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.
  • Feldman, Martha. ‘Love, Race and Resistance: The Fugitive Voice of Nina Simone’. In The Female Voice in the Twentieth Century: Material, Symbolic and Aesthetic Dimensions, edited by Serena Facci and Michela Garda, 83-101. London: Routledge, 2021.
  • Feldstein, Ruth. ‘“I Don’t Trust You Anymore”: Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s’. The Journal of American History 91, no. 4 (2005): 1349-79.
  • Feldstein, Ruth. ‘“More than Just a Jazz Performer”: Nina Simone’s Border Crossings’. In How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, 84-112 [puts material from the 2005 article in broader context of other artists’ connection to CRM].
  • Fleming, Julius B. ‘Anticipating Blackness: Nina Simone, Lorraine Hansberry, and the Time of Black Ontology’. South Atlantic Quarterly 121, no. 1 (1 January 2022): 131–52. https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-9561587.
  • Friedwald, Will. ‘Nina Simone’. In A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers. New York: Pantheon, 2010, 412-7.
  • Friedwald, Will. ‘Nina Simone and Piano!’. In The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums. New York: Pantheon, 2017, 272-9.
  • Gaines, Malik. ‘The Quadruple-Consciousness of Nina Simone’. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 23, no. 2 (2013): 248-67.
  • Gaines, Malik. ‘Nina Simone’s Quadruple Consciousness’. In Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible. New York: New York University Press, 2017, 21-54.
  • Garland, Phyl. ‘Nina Simone: High Priestess of Soul’. Chapter 5 of The Sound of Soul, 169-190. Chicago, Henry Regnery, 1969.
  • Griffin, Farah Jasmine. ‘When Malindy Sings: A Meditation on Black Women’s Vocality’. In Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. Edited by Robert G. O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards and Farah Jasmine Griffin. New York; Columbia University Press, 2004, 102-25.
  • Heard, Danielle C. ‘“Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood”: Nina Simone’s Theater of Invisibility’. Callaloo 35, no. 4 (2012): 1056–84.
  • Kernodle, Tammy. ‘“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”: Nina Simone and the Redefining of the Freedom Song of the 1960s’. Journal of the Society for American Music 2, no. (2008): 295-317.
  • Laing, Olivia. Everybody: A Book about Freedom. London: Picador, 2021. [‘Final chapter, ‘22nd Century’, on Simone]
  • Lordi, Emily J. The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience since the 1960s. Refiguring American Music. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020. [references across the book, focussed sections on Simone 49-53, 82-7]
  • Lordi, Emily J. ‘Souls Intact: The Soul Performances of Audre Lorde, Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone’. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 26, no. 1 (2016): 55-71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2016.1183981.
  • Loudermilk, A. ‘Nina Simone and the Civil Rights Movement: Protest at Her Piano, Audience at Her Feet’. Journal of International Women’s Studies 14, no. 3 (2013): 121-36.
  • Lynskey, Dorian. ‘Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam”’. In 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs. London: Faber and Faber, 2010, 89-106.
  • Mena, Jasmine A. and P. Khalil Saucier. ‘“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”: Nina Simone’s Africana Womanism’. Journal of Black Studies 45, no. 3 (2014): 247-65. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021934714528512.
  • Menconi, David. ‘Songs of Immigrants and Emigrants: From Nina Simone to the Kruger Brothers’. In Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, 211-51. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020.
  • Moore, Marlon Rachquel. ‘From Rage to Resignation: Reading Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned as a Post-Civil Rights Response to Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”’. In Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making, edited by Alexandra Juhasz and Yvonne Welbon, 205–24. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822371854-018.
  • Middleton, Richard. 2006. Section on Nina Simone in Voicing the Popular: On the Subjects of Popular Music. New York and London: Routledge, 110-23 [not a whole chapter but a lengthy section of Chapter 3: ‘Appropriating the Phallus?: Female Voices and the Law-of-the-Father’].
  • Nathan, David. The Soulful Divas. New York: Billboard, 1999. [Chapter on Simone]
  • O’Brien, Lucy. She Bop II: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul. London: Continuum, 2002. [Chapter on Simone]
  • Ponomareff, Alexander. ‘ForeWomen: Eunice Kathleen Waymon, Nina Simone, Talib Kweli, DJ Hi Tek, and the Politics of Self-Creation’. Journal of Popular Music Studies 31, no. 1 (2019): 157-74.
  • Powell-Wright, Debra A. ‘Four Women, For Women: Black Women—All Grown Up’. In Imagining the Black Female Body: Reconciling Image in Print and Visual Culture, edited by Carol Henderson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 109-20.
  • Redmond, Shana L. ‘Soul Intact: CORE, Conversions, and Covers of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”’. In Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: New York University Press, 2014, 179-220.
  • Pyle, Marcus R. ‘Nina Simone as Poet and Orchestrator: Black Female Subjectivity and the Exo(p)tic in “Images” and “Four Women”’. Journal of Popular Music Studies 33, no. 2 (2021): 130–47. https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2021.33.2.130.
  • Taylor, Arthur. 1993. ‘Nina Simone’. In Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews. New York: Da Capo Press, 148-59.
  • Tillet, Salamishah. ‘Strange Sampling: Nina Simone and Her Hip-Hop Children’. American Quarterly 66, no. 1 (2014): 119-37.
  • Tsuruta, Dorothy Randall. ‘I Ain’t about to be Non-Violent, Honey’. The Black Scholar 29, no. 2-3 (1999): 54-8. https://doi.org/10.1080/00064246.1999.11430963.
  • Yablonsky, Linda. ‘Nina Simone at the Village Gate’. In The Show I’ll Never Forget: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concertgoing Experience, edited by Sean Manning. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2007, 58-68.

Theses and dissertations

  • Elliott, Richard. Loss, Memory and Nostalgia in Popular Song: Thematic Aspects and Theoretical Approaches. Doctoral thesis. Newcastle University, 2008. [Chapter 4: ‘“I’m Awfully Bitter These Days”: Freedom, Yearning and Defeat in Nina Simone’s Late Voice’, 212-304]
  • Freyermuth Jessie L. ‘An Analysis of the Musical Interpretations of Nina Simone’. Master’s thesis, Kansas State University, 2008.
  • Harkink, Maaike. Translating Nina Simone’s Civil Rights Songs into Dutch: ‘I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free’. Master’s thesis. Utrecht University, 2016.
  • Marin, Reva. “Protest Notes: Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, and the Civil Rights Movement.” Master’s thesis, York University, 2007.
  • Tomlinson, Sarah. “‘And I Want You to Walk Down Freedom’s Road’: Rethinking Resistance in the Music of Nina Simone, 1958-1963.” Master’s thesis. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2016.

Other texts

Notes

Since starting to research Nina Simone in earnest from 2004 onward, I have often seen references to, but have never tracked down, a book by Richard Williams called Nina Simone: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, supposedly published by Canongate in 2002 or 2004, depending on which retail or review site you see the book listed at (no copies are ever available). It is advertised as a title in Mojo magazine’s ‘Heroes’ series, other titles from which are easily locatable (I have the one on Neil Young by Sylvie Simmons). Searches on author, title and ISBN in Copac and the British Library catalogue have yielded no results. Other publications where Williams has written about Simone (like The Guardian and Uncut) make no mention of the book. For all these reasons, I’ve generally assumed it was pulled from publication. But if that were the case, why do authors of online encyplopedia articles about Simone cite Williams’s book?