Can You See Me?
Charmagne Scott redefines "time is of the essence". Experienced, cultivated. As if she didn't have enough motivation to make her continue the exertion, Charmagne melodically bellows her world with her outlook on today's society through any social platform available. Mother, "inspiracation" connoisseur. While raising a young queen, she emphatically relays that same passion in any youth she encounters. In her own words, "It is better to give than receive. Working hard and being smart IS cool. I want them to always see their inner King/Queen and project this royalty everywhere. You don't have to be a product of your circumstances." Double degrees, P-Town born, Hill City raised. "A goal without a plan is merely a dream." She defines Ocelot: Reign Supreme.
“Sometimes I sound like gravel and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.” - Eunice Waymon.
Brilliant, loved, vocal and bold. Nina Simone used her voice to speak out for her people. A classical-trained and talented pianist who became a blues singer by chance: to supplement income for her family while playing “the devil’s music” for $90 a week. This job came after she was rejected from The Curtis Institute of Music in 1950. (She was later awarded an honorary degree from this institute just two days before her death 2003.)
I originally watched "What Happened, Miss Simone" about two months ago, since I am a nerd at heart and documentaries tend to be fascinating and intriguing to me. I knew who she was, but I did not know the depth of her life. I have yet to see the biopic with Zoe Saldana and I knew it was controversial because Hollywood decided to ignore colorism in our community and how even our own Brown women are ostracized amongst us. The movie was also produced by a largely white team (which I think explains the colorism), so I chose to watch the more factual depiction produced by her daughter, Lisa and ex-husband Andy Stroud.
The church has been a staple in Black communities in that it was one of the few safe spaces we had to convene in masses to worship, fellowship and many times, mourn. Nina’s mother was a preacher, however, she was not allowed to speak of any racial talk in the home. During one of her performances in her youth, her parents were actually told to sit in the back. She refused to perform until they were moved to the front. BOLD. Complete foreshadowing. I believe that her being unable to communicate about these tensions within her home and how she described someone white as “alien” to her at the time largely affected her involvement in the Civil Rights movement, which she later felt was detrimental to her career. “Mississippi Goddam”, one of her most acclaimed songs, was written after the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing in Birmingham that killed four brown girls and partially blinded another at 16th Street Baptist Church.
Nina felt she deserved her civil rights by any means necessary. The rage she felt was conveyed further through her music and she sung this song so hard that her voice broke and she was never able to return to that octave. She made it clear that she was “not nonviolent” and actually expressed this to Dr. King. She adopted the former (Pre-Mecca) attitudes of Malcolm X (whom was also her neighbor) of obtaining freedom by taking it back, literally in every sense.
Now, some won’t agree, but I admire her stance, as it was a time of such unrest. James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Sidney Poitier and Lena Horne were just a few individuals in the arts who were unabashed in the movement or forms of civil disobedience. Most times, men led the forefront and women were the backbones. While some feel that artists should not get involved in political and social issues, I believe it makes them more humane and in a position of power and influence, it can make or break the circumstance: perception is key.
One thing holds true, hate it or love it, when they speak, we listen.
Later, after her career took a turn from the records not being played and literally being smashed, Nina was quoted in an interview saying, “I think that the artists who don't get involved in preaching messages probably are happier – but you see, I have to live with Nina, and that is very difficult." She was unapologetically Nina Simone 24/7.
Loneliness and isolation is sometimes a byproduct of standing up for a cause or pursuing your dreams. You work, work, werk, werk until it’s done, but you’re never done because you always want more. Whether it’s materialistic (Nina wanted to be a “rich Black b*tch), or intrinsic (but was an extraordinary classical pianist who wanted to share her gifts with the world), something is gained, but the soul can be lost.
Nina was plagued by mental illness (manic depression and bipolar disorder) and loneliness. She was not diagnosed until her reemergence overseas in the eighties, however, it was speculated over the years with erratic behaviors. That very loneliness that kept her from being a “child” in practicing hours a day on the piano is the same loneliness that carried into adulthood with an abusive and controlling spouse who said she “loved being striked.” She ran from him and her daughter. Ironically, when her daughter joined her in Liberia, she became the aggressor, rather than the comfort, and Lisa moved back to the United States to live with her father. Nina’s abuse towards her became unbearable and to the point of being suicidal.
“I was a damn good mother.” She believed she was, but the impact of decisions scarred her daughter, emotionally and she was broken. Generational curses are real, but the cycle does not have to become a way of life. Within our communities, it is important that we recognize the signs. Understand that some who appear to have it all together are potentially fighting battles and demons. Don’t count them out. Practice empathy. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We are all one decision away from everything changing for better or for worse.
The woman who commanded attention during her performances (literally calling people out to sit down and be quiet in the middle of shows) was dealing with emotional and physical tormenting behind closed doors and at times, public, to the point she hid from her husband for two weeks- bruised and blooded.
Listen to the words. Embrace them. They tell a story and whether the language is familiar or foreign, overstand the intensity beyond the instruments and voices. Know that no matter how far we’ve come, the finish line seems to shift depending on who is running the race.
She saw. She came. She conquered. She retreated. She denied. She was restored.
Don’t call it a comeback- Miss Simone knew exactly who she was. And we see you. We feel you.
Make sure and join us on January 20th at Riverviews Artspace for a free viewing of "What Happened, Miss Simone" at 7pm! Details here.