Nina Simone was a beautiful pianist, songwriter, and singer. Her courage was larger than life. She was a Civil Rights activist; her music was her voice. To me, no high school American history class or Civil Rights unit study is complete without her. The music she wrote and performed during the Civil Rights Movement undeniably falls under the genre of protest music. Some of the songs are soulfully heartbreaking, some are angry calls for justice. Most of her music from this time period was considered controversial. One in particular, Mississippi *@#!*, written after the murder of Medgar Evers, was banned by radio stations. Yep, I’m going to recommend something that includes vulgar language (and to some, religiously offensive language), so this post may not be for everyone. However, I think the role this song, and others, played in our history (and the gut wrenching pain in this song) is too important to leave out.
ONLINE ARTICLES and VIDEOS
- I don’t know that anything short of a thousand pages could really do Nina Simone justice, but the brief bio on the Nina Simone webpage is a great place to begin.
- Cornelius Eady wrote a poem entitled “Nina’s Blues.” Watch an animated video created by Ryan Rogers while Eady reads his poem here.
- Nina Simone’s estate has a You Tube channel. It is full of music video clips from performances and interviews. Check it out here. One of my favorite interview clips of Nina Simone is her definition of freedom (this clip also appears in the Netflix documentary mentioned below).
LESSON PLANS and ACTIVITIES
- LEARN NC has free lesson plans (and links for the resources needed for the lesson plans) specifically about Nina Simone. My recommendation is for high school age, though the writer recommends middle and high school. These plans would supplement Civil Rights units, twentieth century arts unit, and American history classes.
- TeachRock.org’s free lesson, The Music of the Civil Rights Movement, is a compilation of songs and artists, not just Nina Simone. My age recommendation is high school (most of the lesson plans on this website are for middle and high school ages).
- There is a children’s book coming out in December 2017. I haven’t read it, but I’m hoping it will be fabulous. The recommended ages are 4 to 8. The book is titled Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone, written by Alice Briere-Haquet and illustrated by Bruno Liance. It is available for pre-order now.
- Sadly, I am unaware of any other books about Nine Simone, other than books written for adults. I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone by, of course, Nina Simone. This is written for an adult audience. Only you can decide if your high schooler is mature enough for the content of this book. It is about her personal life, not specifically about her music.
The documentaries listed below were created for adult audiences. They are honest, brutal, and moving. Preview them to decide if your high school student should see them. I would comfortably use clips from each, but I’m not sure I would show either in their entirety.
- In 2015 Netflix came out with a documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? It is still available at this time on Netflix.
- Another documentary directed by Jeff Lieberman, The Amazing Nina Simone, also came out in 2015.
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