Friday, July 28, 2017

Two Words: Four Women

Nina Simone: Four Women


Lisa Simone, Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo, Lizz Wright: Four Women

[Not available for purchase]

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Four Women


Was Nina Simone the Toni Morrison of jazz? The case can be made with songs like this one. Both women used their art to present unflinching pictures of the black experience, black women especially. Four Women is exactly what the title suggests, a song that presents brief portraits of four women and the experiences that shaped them. Each woman gets one verse to tell her story. Simone’s genius here lay in the fact that that one brief verse was enough to tell us what she wanted us to know. This song is not easy to listen to, its lyrics harsh. Simone wanted us to understand our privilege in not having to live these lives. I would imagine that black women hearing this could listen to these words and rejoice in how far they have come, or reflect on how far they still have to go. I have not lived their lives, so I can not truly say. The rest of us can try to understand that Simone is not exaggerating here. We can allow her words to appeal to our better natures, and try to find out what we can do to help. We can begin by not practicing the types of exploitation described here.

There can be no doubt that this song, from 1966, continues to resonate today. It is a staple of many tributes to Nina Simone, such as the one the quartet version I have featured here comes from. There would possibly be more covers of the song now if the major labels were willing to release such material. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s beautiful take on the song comes from an album released on an independent label. That album chronicles Bridgewater’s quest to connect to her African origins by making music with Malian musicians.

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