PRINCESS NOIRE: THE TUMULTUOUS REIGN OF NINA SIMONE
BY NADINE COHODAS
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
Nina Simone’s soulful, utterly distinctive interpretive vocal art and hard-hitting Civil Rights Movement-era songwriting was recently collected on the RCA/Legacy CD/DVD set To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story, from “Mississippi Goddam” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” which she wrote, to the original version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” written for her, and her riveting, dramatic take on songwriters from Gershwin to Sandy Denny. The life alluded to in this new biography’s title was made so tumultuous (1933-2002) not just by race, but by the diva’s increasingly fierce, disdainful behavior towards audiences, supporters and family. Simone’s special talents and deeply disturbed psychology are both exhaustively chronicled; Ms. Cohodas details how the young classical piano prodigy born Eunice Waymon went on, virtually against her own will, to become one of America’s masterful pop singers, how this most effectively eclectic of vocalists, who mixed elements of jazz, blues, African, Broadway and folk music in her singular mix, would, with tragic irony, become a victim of multiple personality disorder, her career slowly falling to pieces.