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Nina Simone: biography and biopic

May 13, 2010 | 11:52 am


We review "Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone" by Nadine Cohodas in Thursday's pages. Simone, of course, was the classically trained musician who carved her own path through jazz, pop and soul, all while fighting for civil rights and occasionally becoming publicly unglued. Reviewer Evelyn McDonnell writes:

Like her unprocessed voice and Bach-meets-barrelhouse piano style, Nina Simone's life story is peculiar, beautiful, sometimes off-key and off-color but deeply, disturbingly dramatic.

Simone's outbursts were often directed at her fans. Performing in 1978, she told an audience, "Talent is a burden, not a joy. I am not of this planet. I do not come from you. I am not like you." She had mysterious hospitalizations and was on medication for multiple-personality disorder.

 McDonnell continues:

A biography of such an outspoken, sometimes tragic woman should be a page-turner, but Cohodas often misses the forest for the trees. She describes gig after gig, yet brushes over such important issues as Simone's bisexuality. ...

In "Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone," Nadine Cohodas reinscribes into the historical record the musical contributions of a woman with prodigious gifts and sometimes unusual taste. The book is exhaustively researched, but unfortunately, in its plodding detail, it fails to grasp the essence of an artist for whom eccentricity and genius were never far apart.

Simone died at age 70 in 2003. There are other books about her -- including her own 1992 memoir, "I Put A Spell on You" -- but a check of IMDB doesn't show which, if any, might be the basis of the just-announced biopic, tentatively titled "Nina." Variety reported Thursday that singer Mary J. Blige will play Simone, and that shooting is set to begin in France in September.

After the jump: Nina Simone performs "I Ain't Got No ... I've Got Life" live.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Left photo: Nina Simone in 1985. Credit: Associated Press

Right photo: Mary J. Blige in March. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images

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