Today, International Women’s Day, the jazz great Nina Simone is on my mind. The fearless Simone was the consummate musical storyteller, who saw her duty as using her voice to "reflect the times.”
Simone grew up on a small southern town. At a very early age a British-born neighbor taught her piano. Simone developed a lifelong love of classic composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, and Schubert. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school class, which surprises none of us who know her lyrics and musical acumen. Her community raised money and provided a scholarship for her to study music. Simone applied to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. And, her hopes for a career as a pioneering Black classical pianist were dashed when the school denied her admission. To the end, Nina Simone maintained that racism was the reason she did not attend. Sadly, I see no reason to doubt her assessment. She turned to jazz and gifted us with the most honest, raw, and beautiful jazz vocals of her time.
Nina Simone was tenacious and resilient, and her lyrics empathetic. To this day, there is only one Nina Simone. On this International Women’s Day Simone, and her creative journey, inspire me to continue my work helping advertising agencies, marketing firms, and the brands they serve explore complex DEI challenges, to find empathic truths and to speak them with radical honesty.